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Corporate care: How Ma Foi helps poor students!

Last updated on: October 7, 2010 08:33 IST

Corporate care: How Ma Foi helps poor students!

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Shobha Warrier in Chennai


Kiruthika, Aadhilaklshmy, Mohan Kumar, Veera Kumar, Faisal . . . all of them belong to the lower crust of the society with their fathers working as a coolie, a car driver, a house painter, et cetera.

There was a time some of them had only one uniform to wear to school, no money to pay the fees or to buy books. They could not even dream of going to college.

That was a few years back. Today, the scenario is different. They study in good schools or colleges, score more than 90 per cent marks and have high goals in life.

It is all because of a non-governmental orgainsation called Ma Foi Foundation that these poor bright children are studying and dreaming today.

When Ma Foi Management Consultants, a company started by K Pandia Rajan and Latha in 1992, made a profit of Rs 5,000 in the first year, the couple decided to donate the profit to Banyan, a trust that helps rehabilitate mentally challenged destitute women.

Vandana Gopikumar and Vaishnavi Jayakumar, two college students, had just started it then. "We sent the entire money to help them set up Banyan. From that year onwards, we keep aside a part of our profits for charity," the Rajans say.

As they doubled their profits every year, their contribution to charity too increased. In 1997, they started a Trust called Sornammal Educational Trust (SET) in the name of Pandia Rajan's grandmother. It was to help the students of his village.

Ma Foi Foundation can be contacted at tmf@mafoirandstad.com

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Image: K Pandia Rajan and his wife Latha.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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In 2007, the Ma Foi Foundation was officially started with Rs 25 lakh (Rs 2.5 million). About 3 per cent of Ma Foi's profits go into the foundation every month. Every year, the foundation spends Rs 2.5 crore (Rs 25 million) on education, sports and health of the children admitted in a government hospital.

The reason why they started the foundation was because they wanted the Ma Foi employees also to be a part of the movement of educating children.

Latha Rajan says, "Our main idea was not just to do charity but involve our employees also in helping the underprivileged. We thought it would be good if more employees could reach out. In a very unstructured way, many of our employees were supporting education through our Sornammal Educational Trust. Our employees spent at least half a day in a month with the children, teaching them, answering their queries and also guiding them in their future plans."

In 2007 itself, the foundation wanted not only their employees but others from the society also to be a part of the movement. Today, they have started a scheme by which anyone can sponsor a child's school or college education.

"Through this programme, many of our friends and well wishers have come forward to sponsor children," Latha Rajan said.

On a regular basis, they have only 40 donors while Ma Foi Foundation supports around 4,000 children. "If we have more donors, we can support more children because we have a proper infrastructure in place. More than the money, we would like it if many people could spend time for the holistic development of the child. It is like mentoring the child," Latha Rajan says.

Out of 4,000 children Ma Foi reaches out to through Disha Foundation, 10 per cent are in college. "We want to see that all our children study in college. I feel that once in college, they will be confident to face any challenge in life."

Let us now hear from the boys and girls who could chase their dreams today because of Ma Foi Foundation.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Adilakshmy is a second-year Botany graduate student, her sister is a final year student of Mathematics and brother, 11th standard student. Both her parents are illiterate and her father works as a coolie.

She and her sister had only one set of uniform each while studying in school which they washed every evening so that it looked neat the next day.

Her father, though illiterate, used to tell his daughters, 'We have not studied but my children should study and become somebody in life. You should not suffer like me.'

"Till I was in the 8th standard, it was very tough. That was when I was selected for Disha scholarship. If not for Disha, I would not have gone to college at all. It was not only the scholarship that helped me but the career guidance lectures by well known people too. If I am able to talk confidently to you, it is only because of Disha. Earlier, I was very shy and without any self confidence."

Today, Adilakshmy knows what she wants to do. After her graduation, she wants to do B.Ed. and then wants to be a teacher. "After that, I want to help such underprivileged children like me. We understand the importance of help more than anybody else."

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Kiruthika is a brilliant 11th standard student with big dreams; she wants to do either medicine or be an IAS (Indian Administrative Service) officer. She wants to serve society and she thinks only these two jobs will give her an opportunity to do so.

Till she became a Disha scholar, she was even scared to dream. "My father is a car driver and earlier he used to drive autos. Because my father could not pay fees in good schools, he put both me and my younger brother in a corporation school. As I used to score good marks, I was allowed to write the Disha scholarship exam," she says.

With the help of all the coaching Disha gave, Kiruthika scored 487/500 which is 97 per cent in her 10th standard exams. As she stood first among all the corporation school students, she was offered free education by one of the top private schools in Chennai.

"At Disha, it was 'Mission 450' for 10th standard but I got 487! For 12th, it is 'Mission 1,150' but my target is 1,170 (out of 1,200 marks). Only then, I will get admission in a medical college without any difficulty."

Kiruthika adds, "More than scoring marks, I feel I gained a lot in terms of improving my communication skills because of the career guidance classes offered by Disha. If I am able to talk in English today, that too confidently, it is only because of Disha. They have instilled in us more than anything, self confidence."

Her ultimate ambition: "I want to support at least one child. At least for that purpose, I have to study and earn well."

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Seventeen-year-old Veera Kumar is a 12th std student with the dream of becoming a doctor. His brother Sivakumar, also a Disha scholar, did so well in his 12th standard exams that he got admission at the Anna University and is the third year engineering student there.

"Like my brother, I also will score very good marks and then join a medical college. It was Mission 450 at Disha but I scored 484/500 in my 10th standard. It was beyond my dreams. I want to score more than 1,150/1,200 in my 12th standard and join the government medical college," a confident Veera Kumar says.

Both the brothers plan to be a part of Disha after their studies and help more students like them.

His mother Padmavathy could say only one thing about her two sons, "Without the help of Disha and the blessing of God, nothing would have happened. I am grateful to both God and Disha."

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Eighteen-year-old Faisal is a chartered accountancy student now. With sagging fortunes of the family, he was shifted from a good private school, to a corporation school.

"I used to cry before going to school every day. At home also, the situation was very bad. There never used to be food at night. We used to drink water and go to sleep. All this happened after my father went into deep debt."

Only because Faisal got Disha scholarship, he could continue his studies and come out of depression. "I was very depressed when I was in the 8th. They gave me a lot of mentoring and counselling, and I came out of it slowly. That year itself, I was awarded the Young Achiever award from Disha. The award was given to me because I was good at studies and also sports. I had also a part of a slum eradication programme in school for which we got second in south India. The award was a big morale booster."

"Later I came out first in school in 10th. After my 12th, I wrote the entrance examination to do Chartered Accountancy and now I am doing Inter. I have no words to say how much they have motivated me. Among my relatives, there were so many who would pull me down but Disha helped me overcome all that with confidence."

After his studies, he plans to start an accountancy firm and then support at least one student!

"I will do what Disha did for me. I would have been a nobody if not for Disha. I owe everything to Disha. All our Disha scholars are like a family and we help each other. A few years from now, we Disha scholars can crate a change at least in Tamil Nadu."

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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Mohan Kumar, a final year B.Com student at the Vivekananda College, couldn't even dream of going to college a few years ago.

"My father earned only Rs 2,000 a month as a security personnel. With that money, it was difficult for him to educate my sister and me. If not for Ma Foi Foundation, I would not have gone to college at all. I scored 81 per cent in 12th standard, again thanks to the foundation. I got admission in Vivekanada College on merit. Disha also guides us on our higher studies as we don't have anyone educated at home to guide us."

Mohan Kumar wants to do MBA after his graduation and then be an entrepreneur. "I am preparing to write CAT. I am interested in the market. So, I want to do something connected with share market and import export. It is because the experts at Disha guided me about my abilities that I could have a clear idea about what I wanted to do. They help us dream."

He also feels that as there are many, many good students out there, and that India needs many more organisations like this.

As a part of the Disha Youth Movement (of all Disha scholars who are in college), the college students under Disha take classes for their school counterparts. 

He also wants to help at least one student when he starts working.

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Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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It is not only education of children that the foundation helps. The Disha Sports Academy trains children in boxing, athletics and football. "We feel a little bit of effort will give good results. But we need a lot of money in sports as we have to hire good coaches, spend money on their food and well being," says Latha Rajan.

The slogan at the Disha Sports Academy is 'Olympic Gold'. Here again, students from corporation schools are chosen based on their interest and ability in sports. The results are already showing with their children winning medals at the national level.

Latha Rajan says that the Academy is looking for partners so that they can include more children in the academy.

Seventeen-year-old Pavithran started boxing three years ago but after he became a Disha scholar and got training under reputed coaches, he has won a gold medal at the state under-19 level and also participated at the national level.

Fifteen-year-old Simon also has won gold medals at the state and national school competitions. "Olympics Gold is our aim and we are sure we will be able to achieve that."


Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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