Christel House India’s first learning centre commenced operation in Bangalore in July 2001. Just over 300 children – in the age group of 5 to 10 years – enrolled from kindergarten through to Grade III. During those early days, classes were conducted from rented facilities, inside cramped classrooms. Infrastructure was basic and outdoor space did not exist.
Yet, challenging as those first several weeks were, the focus could not waver. The children’s health and hygiene aspects as also their social-skills development were always going to be integral to facilitating their overall development process. The Christel House vision was to enable children from underprivileged backgrounds to break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient members of society.
In 2003, Christel House acquired about seven acres of land on the outskirts of Bangalore and construction of the new facility began. The first phase was completed in June 2004 – in time for the start of the new school year – and the second phase in 2006. The third and final phase to house the pre-university college was completed in 2010. The school infrastructure now includes 29 classrooms, science laboratories, a music room, a library, a computer room, a sports ground, a dining hall and a kitchen, a medical facility, a staff room and an administrative block.
About a thousand children are enrolled there, from kindergarten to Grade XII. The enrolment process is methodical. Affiliate partners (shelters and NGOs) are requested each February to furnish a list of children under their care for whom they seek enrolment. At the same time, though, only a limited number of students recommended by affiliate partners can be enrolled since Christel House also admits a significant number of children from slum communities. Children seeking enrolment are registered by the Christel House Social Service Department so that due diligence can be done.
For children from slums (within 18 km from the learning centre), a prerequisite is that their total combined family income should be below Rs 3,500 per month and that amount should be supporting four or more dependents. Nearly 1,500 applications for admission are received every year. From these, 70 children are enrolled at the kindergarten level. All these children undergo a screening test, both psychological and academic, before enrolment. Preferences are given to orphans, single-parent children and siblings.
Once enrolled, inmates are assured of two wholesome meals, uniforms, books and transportation. Christel House ensures that each student receives proper immunizations and has a up-to-date medical record. To ensure that all students have access to preventative healthcare, the organization partners with local hospitals, doctors and dentists to keep costs low.
For most of these children, life perhaps offered little or no prospects before Christel House found them—or they found Christel House. Here, children are guided not only through the entire academic cycle but also on vocational courses or university studies. Promising students also receive assistance in job placement. Overall, the dropout rate is claimed to be very low, at around two per cent.
The first Christel House was founded in 1998 by Christel DeHaan with a mission to help children break the cycle of poverty and become self-sufficient, constructive members of society. On ground, this means providing impoverished children with education, nutrition, healthcare and a nurturing environment, and empowering their families through outreach services. Breaking the cycle of poverty would require getting to the systemic causes of poverty – lack of education, healthcare, opportunity, skills, self-confidence and human dignity – and addressing these through practical and transformational solutions.
There are several learning centres: in Venezuela, Mexico, South Africa, Indianapolis and India (in Bangalore and in Lavasa, Pune). The head office is in Indianapolis, USA.
The big challenge for teachers is ensuring a reinforcing environment at home for these children. More often than not, these children would find themselves returning to a home that was far from conducive to study and development of good social skills. Their parents are most likely either illiterate or school dropouts, and to begin with, cannot be entirely depended upon to supervise the child’s study. Therefore, regular parent-teacher workshops are conducted in order to involve the parents closely in the child’s development. Alongside, teachers have to constantly encourage and counsel the children to study at home and hold on to the good habits taught in school.
Somewhere, the persistence is paying off. The first batch of students who completed the Class 10 Board Exams (SSLC) in 2009 had 100 per cent pass results. Simultaneously, students have started to express their creativity more fully, making animation films, documentary films and music videos.