Q. How did the members of KESST happen to come together for this cause?
A. The Trustees knew each other and found common cause when we found that a relatively prosperous farming district like Kodagu, had many heart-breaking cases of children dropping out of school for financial reasons, and also had many destitute widows who could not provide for their children.
We had been organising funds, and assisting children and families since 2009. And in January 2016, to ensure full accountability and transparency, we thought it best to create a formal social organisation and we went ahead and registered the Trust (KESST). We felt that this would enhance the confidence of contributors in us as an accountable organisation, and assure them that their funds would really reach the needy students.
Q. Do each of you take on separate roles? How do you manage the operations?
A. We do have the mandatory formal roles of President, Managing Trustee and Secretary but as of now we all chip in with work to gather funds and reach it to the right children in Kodagu. Despite living in different regions we are in close touch with each other.
Decisions taken are based on unanimity or consensus and ratified at periodic meetings. Financial transactions are preferred through the bank and as per accounting norms. We plan to make all our accounts open to public scrutiny, and in due course we expect to have Income Tax deductions under Section 80G for all contributions.
Q. How have people reacted so far to KESST?
A. We are in the process of creating awareness about the activities of the Trust, interestingly, some of the people we talk to are shocked when we share details of the cases we have come across. These are stories of the quiet desperation of the less privileged families in Kodagu. Yes, the seeming prosperity of the District makes it difficult to believe that it really has a big and dark underbelly of poverty.
I find that initially there is a reluctance on the part of donors to contribute as, people seek assurance that their contribution will reach the right person. Some of them do enquire about our organisation, and we assure them that there is minimal leakage in terms of administrative costs. We are a volunteer group and do not take salaries for the services we provide. It also helps that we, the Trustees, are relatively well known people and have staked our personal reputations on ensuring the professional, ethical and honest functioning of the Trust.
We can help donors to make their contributions directly to the school of a student, in which case a receipt from the school is sent to the donor. When the donor wants to make a contribution without specifying a student or a purpose, we guide the contribution to the Trust’s bank account. We have no minimum or maximum amounts for contributions. No amount is too small.
Every contributor is encouraged to meet and mentor the students that he, or she, has helped.
We are hopeful that more and more individuals will now come forward to fund the most precious asset a child can have, an education.
Q. Can you share some of the success stories you have had?
A. In the past seven years, since 2009, we have been able to reach out and help over 350 children. Many of whom we have supported even in previous years.
KESST has also been assisting schools by facilitating the presentation of laptops, their infrastructure and library books.
We also arrange talks by various eminent persons to the children in the schools we support. We are happy that we are currently supporting a student who is doing his MBA, and have assisted another student to join NIT Suratkal for her M.Sc degree.
Q. I read on your website that KESST provides training for the entrance examinations to Sainik School, the NDA and the Naval Academy. How did that aspect of your activity start?
A. Kodagu has an enviable reputation for creating top-notch military personnel and we are trying to increase the awareness of opportunities available in the Defence Services. We are looking at optimising Defence-related educational and career options for the youth of the District.
Did you know that today the Sainik School at Kudige has barely 1% of the entire student strength from Kodagu district? There are three main reasons for this:
Firstly, the age restriction precludes Class 5 children from being eligible (the Class 4 children who are eligible find the syllabus quite advanced).
Secondly, the entrance examination is an All-India level competitive exam and requires intensive preparation.
Thirdly, lack of awareness compounded by the reluctance of parents to let their children take up Defence-related career options.
Since children in the district do not have access to special preparation for these competitive entrance exams, we have set up a no-profit coaching class. Students seeking entrance to Sainik School for Class 6 are coached at Lions School, Gonikoppal and those wanting entrance to Class 9 are coached at Virajpet.
We fund the teachers and provide all study material from the Trust, the children are charged a very nominal fee for the coaching. The management of Lions School Gonikoppal and parents of the children have been very cooperative in this endeavour.
KESST identified a special maths coach for NDA/NA entrance exam and conducted three programs in 2014-15 but we had poor response from the children of the district. We have not given up and are in talks currently with an educational institution to conduct the coaching classes in their premises.
Q. The private sector has become an alluring option, and a career in the Forces is not being seriously considered by many. As “Proof of the Pudding” would you advise Kodagu youth to go in for a Short Service Commission in the Army? What are the advantages for the youth?
A. Yes indeed, a career in the private sector may be an attractive option, but a career in the defence forces offers a different set of opportunities.
It offers an opportunity to serve the Nation. It develops mental and physical endurance. The military training hones a variety of skills such as situational analysis and arriving at workable solutions. It inculcates a sense of punctuality, and creates a heightened sense of responsibility with good levels of remuneration…and most importantly, it offers great camaraderie and brotherhood. It is more than a career, it is a good preparation for life itself.
For those who have family obligations, such as having to take over the family business someday, I recommend the option of a short service commission.
Q. How do you find the children of Kodagu when you interact with them?
A. The children of Kodagu have a special sense of uniqueness fostered by their rich heritage. However, their potential is limited due to relatively less exposure within the district. Fortunately, they enjoy the benefits of easy access to the outdoors and have, so far, escaped the trap that easy access to technology creates.
Q. How do you see KESST evolving over the next few years?
A. We would like to have sufficient funds to be able to help all the needy children, and families. It would be good to have a fully functional centre or centres to assist our youth in preparation for adulthood, higher education and meaningful careers and lives.
Many of us don’t think twice about ordering a pizza for Rs 500 or going to see a movie in a multiplex paying Rs 300 for a seat. I request the more privileged amongst us to skip one such event and donate the money for a child’s education. An entire year’s fees in a government school is about Rs 6,000 and that amount can change a child’s life and ensure that he or she grows up to reach full potential and maybe someday give back to society.