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Rebuilding Rural Youths’ Dreams through the Vidya HelpLine Project

By: Anika Barsha

· Asia,Education,Technology

Every person dreams of achieving his or her own goals. Every goal requires some fundamental mechanisms that will lead to its success. For young and passionate students with big dreams, education has therefore become their strongest weapon. It is unfortunate however, that many youths particularly those from rural areas, drop out of school or give up on achieving their goals just because they lack guidance, information and counseling in those areas which often get neglected. They are not aware of available opportunities which hinder them from getting their desired goals and lose passion for what they do or study.

In Andhra Pradesh, India, non-governmental organization Nirmaan initiated a flagship program called Vidya HelpLine to help deprived students from rural areas to get optimal access to guidance and information that will help them make education and career-related decisions.

Vidya HelpLine

While running various programs under Nirmaan such as educating rickshaw pullers and setting up libraries, Vidya HelpLine project CEO Mr. Chandra Sekhar P felt the need for bridging up the information gap that has been persisting in the rural areas for a long time.

Chandra Sekhar shared that Vidya HelpLine aims to solve two major problems. One is the lack of information and guidance in the rural areas regarding education and careers. Another is people’s lack of passion for their education and what they do for a living.

The whole project works based on three major approaches.

1. Goal Setting Workshops

Career counseling workshop held by Vida Helpline in a school.

Photo from Vida Helpline

The workshops teach career planning to rural students. They learn how to plan out their career paths, identify and choose the college that is available and most suited for them, and what opportunities are available for them based on their choices. The workshop has been conducted in more than 2000 schools and around 200,000 students have benefitted from it.

2. Toll-Free Tele Counseling and Voice or Text Messages

Text messaging service of Vida Helpline.

Photo from Vida Helpline

As rural students are mostly first generation learners and come from low-income families, they sometimes cannot afford continuous tele counseling sessions. Keeping that in mind, Vidya HelpLine came up with toll-free tele counseling services for the students so that they can reach out any time they need to. Currently the project has 20 channels and 50 employees are working for the service. The sessions discuss topics like available courses that students are interested in, vocational education, examination notifications and counseling, open education, scholarships, and loans.

Currently, the project has made more than 600,000 calls and has reached out to 200,000 students. Moreover, the voice messaging service was made for students who are visually impaired so that they don’t miss out on important information. Chanrda Sekhar believes his project has a long way to go considering the vast number of students from India who are still being disadvantaged and in need for career counseling services

3. Mobi Counsel App

The Mobi Counsel app interface.

Photo from Vida Helpline

Tele counseling and other services can only reach a very limited number of students in India. As a result, the team came up with the innovative idea which utilized technology to launch a mobile application named Mobi Counsel – Career App NVHL. The app provides the same information such as available scholarship programs and loans, institutions, career opportunities, and so on. It contains a feature called “Ask an Expert” through which the user can contact a career expert from a specific field. The app is suitable for all kinds of devices.

Challenges and Future Goals

An initial challenge to their eight-year journey was the diverse group of people who worked for the team. According to Chandra Sekhar, the team members came from different educational background and did not know much about the development sector and fund raising work. This led to another one of their challenges which was the lack of funding opportunities.

Vidya HelpLine has been receiving more than 300,000 calls while it can only take up to 100,000 calls daily. Because of the lack of resources and limited network, the program is unable to meet the present demand. As a result, the major focus of the project was to implement and use artificial intelligence and technology so that the network can be broadened out and spread out to other states and places.

Chandra Sekhar wants to inspire others from various countries to initiate his program in order to help disadvantaged students. “The replica could be implemented in other developing countries as well so that a better generation comes in the future,” he stated.

Sponsorships, Support, and Recognitions

Vidya HelpLine is supported by various government and non-governmental organizations such as Invesco CSR, Guntur Municipal Organization, Asha for Education, and private individuals. It looks forward to a donor program to broaden out its networks. The project won a number of prestigious awards and recognitions including the Rotary Award for Excellence 2017 and Vodafone Mobile for Good Award 2016.

You can learn more about Vidya HelpLine through their website: http://www.vidyahelpline.org/ or http://www.nirmaan.org/

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