Organising The Disorganised

How humanity helps - Christel House disconnects many from poverty

Sujata Devadas, January 25, 2019

Christel De Haan with Christel House school kids.

The ultimate treasure

Living below $1.25 per day, for 276 million impoverished people in India, steady employment with a regular salary is the ultimate treasure.

This is also the declared objective of German-born American Christel De Haan, co-founder of Resort Condominiums International (RCI), and all Christel House personnel, not just in the obscure Bangalore suburb of Kannur that began in July 2001, but in the first such school established in Mexico City in 1998, followed by other schools in the United States, South Africa, India and the next one coming up in Jamaica.

Connecting the disconnected

Sharing Solutions magazine’s reader Geetha Prem brought this solution to its attention after she learnt that poorest of the poor is the only basic criteria for children to get admission in Bangalore’s Christel House school. In 2001, an average combined monthly income of family members with 4 or 5 dependents below Rs.6000/- ($85) was set as the baseline for selection. Now this baseline is below Rs.12,000/-($171).

“Children do not choose to be born into poverty.” says Jaison C Mathew, Christel House India’s Chief Executive Officer. “Funded by donations, the Christel House holistic education and development model transforms lives.”

Comprehensive help

Selected from 24 different destitute areas in a 20 km radius around the school, this secular school admits 70 children at age 5 into its Kindergarten to equip them for the next 16 years with comprehensive K-12 education, excellent daily nutrition through breakfast, lunch and the evening snack, character development, healthcare that includes vaccinations, follow-up treatments, mental health services if needed, counselling, career guidance, transportation to school, books, school uniforms, stationery, community outreach, undergraduate college education and transition to employment.

It has 865 students now. From 2001 onwards, the school shoulders the responsibility to provide all this to its students completely free because healthy and well-nourished young children are more likely to reach their fullest physical, cognitive and socio-emotional potential. “Parents simply need to give our students dinner if possible and the night’s stay until they are gainfully employed.” says Jaison. The school does not give lateral admission as they show a greater inclination to drop out.

Clamps and restrictions

To understand the state of children living in deprivation - a paralysed father perhaps, or mothers who are single income earners working for 12 hours, parents who are rag pickers, single parents, abusive parents or guardians, those with addictions and chronic medical ailments, orthodox restrictive beliefs,

orphaned children, kids housed in shelters away from violent conflicts - the school's teachers are taken for a field trip each year to see where their students live and empathise why some kids are unable to do their homework or cannot bathe in single-room homes, sometimes with more than 10 family members.

India's two Christel House schools (the second one in Atal Nagar, Raipur, Chattisgarh state with 350 students, operational since 2016) constructed the facilities to allow these children to take a bath (giving them permission 3 periods in a week to do so) and launders their uniforms.

Involving the destitute

Boarding facilities might appear ideal to give comprehensive education to impoverished children, but “rather than breaking the children’s link with their families, all the students live with their families in slums or in villages. Whatever they learn influences their friends and family who do not have access to such education” explains  Beschi Amalarasu, Head of the school’s Social Service Department. “Over 18 years of doing this, I have a fairly good estimate of the enormous unutilised resource in impoverished areas. Our objective is to organise this disorganised sector. Unmotivated or illiterate parents cannot or do not help a child that fails to understand a subject in school. Drop outs happen, leading inevitably to child labour because parents view their child’s additional earning as another means to ease their harrowing financial crisis. Our school therefore puts in every effort to help each student progress. We inform parents’ on the type of education that serves their children best, emphasising how continued education is crucial to gain and sustain a job. The consequent benefits disperse to more than one generation. We find out what the school can do for destitute parents or guardians, then use Community Outreach to make it happen.”

All interventions are implemented with parental consent. Parents involvement in the process of making decisions, planning and executing changes results in the benefits lasting longer. The Social Service Department’s familiarity with the 24 impoverished communities automatically translates into them becoming a key interface between the school and the parents.

 

Combining the impact

 

With a multitude of entrenched disadvantages and dimensions, too much for just a school to single-handedly handle or resolve, the professionally-run non-profit Christel House India (a part of global charity Christel House International based in Indianapolis) evolved over the years into a successful agent in poverty alleviation. The adjacent table shows how it unites solutions by tying up with associations having a different core competency to help students and their families.

Christel House requests parents to volunteer 40 hours annually. This opens a window for uneducated, illiterate parents to observe the school at work. The hours of volunteering has exceeded expectations. “95% of the parents are involved in their children’s progress and get a sense of ownership,” explains the school’s Academic Director, Jaya George, “but a few have irrefutable concerns which is the reason for our robust Community Outreach Programme.”

Impact 1: cut loose

Government’s rudimentary free school education gives children literacy but does not guarantee steady paid employment. When Christel House students’ get a job, their first social mobility achievement is to contribute to their family’s income and move them out of slums, severing that conspicuous link to poverty.

Impact 2: fake impoverishment

Another evidence of success is when some families fake impoverishment by shifting into a slum for a short time, so that their children gain admission into Christel House. The school’s Social Service Department close such loopholes to ensure each seat goes to a child living below the poverty line through uninformed visits, checking tenancy papers, electricity payments and ID verifications. 

Third evidence: employability

The first batch of Christel House students graduated college in 2014. Now, in India and abroad, more than 100 companies employ its 482 ex-students. Some among them are Deutsche Bank, State Bank of India, ANZ, HSBC, Target, Transguard Security Dubai, Hewlett Packard, IBM, KPMG, Cognizant, Infosys, Honda, Unilever, Dell, Wipro, Accenture, BHEL, Star Cruise, Amazon, BBMP, Myntra and Christel House itself.

The alumni work in India and other countries as engineers, application developers, system administrators, in fabrication and merchandising, as risk transaction analyst, architects, teachers, doctor, drug safety analysts, research biologist, lecturers, journalists, agricultural experts, psychology and more.

Aeronautical engineer Maldren Joyce (ranked 5th from the top in Mangalore University) works in Talinn, Estonia

M Sc.+ B.Ed graduate Chaitra with her father, Christel House Security Guard, K.Shivashankar

Prashant David works in Transguard Security Group, Dubai.

Dr.Reshma Shaikh, the school's first medical graduate

Architect Akshay has his own firm Chamara 

Reaching for a career

Developed by Promise Foundation, career guidance begins when the value of education is explained in Kindergarten. In the remaining 12 years, talks by corporate employees and the school’s alumni about their careers plus factory visits complements discussions and 40 worksheets that children fill in each year to understand themselves, understand the world of work, explore career alternatives and prepare for a chosen career. 

Children write down their likes, dislikes, their interests and potential for the first time in Grade 5. What they choose with idealism at that age, could alter by Grade 10 when they must select science, commerce or arts for higher education. 

 

Funds are raised for all students to pursue college education. Students with low cognitive skills receive remedial educational assistance in the school. 2 full time counsellors do closed door 1-on-1 counselling on children’s personal issues; 2 others in the learning support group are qualified to do academic counselling.

 

Free choice

“With less than 60 IQ, 3 slow learners were directed towards the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) provided by India’s National Council Of Educational Research And Training (NCERT)” says Jaya. “Passing 3 out of 5 subjects in this open school course at age 16, gives them the eligibility to join one of 136 different Industrial Training Institute (ITI) hands-on job-oriented 2 year vocational training diploma courses in mechanics, computer science, automobile engineering, agriculture and other fields” she says. “We tie up with Spastics Society of Karnataka and Unnati for other suitable courses. Fluent in English, comfortable using computers, these ex-students work as receptionists, in automobile show rooms and as small-time entrepreneurs running bakeries or making chocolates for sale.” 

 

“It is not a zero error thing, however” she concludes. “We don't own these children because they studied here. 22 educated ex-students have no desire to enter the job market, preferring to be home makers.”

Direct consequence

Results over 18 years show Christel House Bangalore’s incredible success. The direct consequence of 100% funding from corporates and foundations to achieve organisational sustainability for the Bangalore school, is that founder Christel DeHaan will fulfil her promise to expand such schools to other Indian cities.

Founder Christel DeHaan bears the entire general, administrative and fundraising expenses in perpetuity, so that 100 percent of a donor’s contribution is utilised towards students education and well-being. “More financial support from corporates and individuals for our outcome based model can transform more children currently living at subsistence level” says Jaison. Parents, Christel House alumni and faculty have unwavering certainty that this approach to education for employability and its transparency approved by Guide Star IndiaGiveIndia, Credibility Alliance, Charities Aid Foundation, bridges yawning gaps by shrinking the importance of a defective dysfunctional system, ushering in equality and social justice at the ground level.

 

Successful models should be replicated.

Christel House, Bangalore

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