Well it took only 9.5 years at Intel but I did it!! I took my 1st sabbatical! Finally!
Staying true to my “Engineer” ways I planned and planned for several months on how to spend my 8 weeks. I had made up my mind that I will spend a majority of this “free” time in support of the initiative I started 2 years ago – Smile Donor – A 501c3 non-profit organization supporting underprivileged children to lead an educated and meaningful life.
So to start off the sabbatical with a bang (on the very first day!), I held an informational brown bag session at Intel to thank all Intel employees for supporting Smile Donor and showing our project roadmap for the next year. It was off to India after that and the first 2 weeks were spent enjoying time with my extended family while enjoying home cooked food and catching up with old friends.
Then came the time to complete the “AR” I had given to myself before starting my sabbatical. This was something I had been looking forward to for a long, long time. It was time to spend the next 3 weeks towards giving back to the society and helping underprivileged and children with special needs. First off was a STEM workshop that Smile Donor organized for the students of a charitable school in the holy city of Amritsar in North India. Smile Donor has supported this school from the very beginning and Intel played a dual role in making this workshop possible. First of all this workshop was held in massive conference room (which can be divided in to class rooms during regular school days) was built through donations made possible by the Intel Bake Sale in August 2015. Secondly Intel Education provided Smile Donor with a team of highly qualified STEM professionals who flew in to conduct the workshop. Over 200 students and teachers performed hands-on activities using simple aids – e.g. BORAX (Sodium Borate) Powder and glue to create Crazy Ball and using paper circuits and LEDs to create wearables. The creative minds of these kids were showcased brilliantly when they started creating their own structures using these simple aids. They participated whole heartedly and it was just awesome to see the zeal and enthusiasm in each child during the workshop.
Students showing their creations during STEM workshop
My next project was to bring schools up-to-date on technological advancements, introduce new pedagogical techniques and create a source of income for underprivileged students. This led me to bring in Intel Education Tablets which will help students and teachers with critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and classroom management. Once again Intel provided a 5 day training to our teachers. These teachers are currently completing undergrad studies with the help of charity organizations and will be hired by Smile Donor to help teach the use of Intel Educational tablets at other charity schools. I must add here that this project to a large extent was made possible by my prior volunteering experience through Intel Education Service Corps (IESC) which equipped me with knowledge to bring this idea to these teachers.
Future teachers being trained on Intel Education Tablets
My journey then took me to the town of Faridabad near New Delhi. I got the chance to visit a charitable school which due to lack of a building facility holds the classes in a park all year. The children from the nearby slums are so excited to get an opportunity to study that they don’t seem to mind the location of the school and have no complaints about the set up. The dedication of the teachers who volunteer there is commendable too. We spent some quality time with students and teachers to understand the issues that they face and how Smile Donor can bring a change in to the lives of these children. Chips, cookies and fruit drinks were distributed by Smile Donor among 200 children which was the highlight of their day.
Smile Donor team interacting with students at the charitable school in Faridabad near Delhi
For the success of any good cause, it is very important to understand the ground reality in order to provide help effectively. So my next stop was to visit slum areas to enable myself to comprehend the hardship of the kids and their families. Smile Donor also held a camp to spread awareness for education there and answered the questions of many parents and children as well. And Intel did its part yet again by contributions through the Intel Involved Matching Grant Program where Intel employees volunteered over 600 hrs towards Smile Donor last year.
Smile Donor team’s visit to the slums
My last and I believe the most important stop of my 3 week journey was meeting the children with special needs supported by Smile Donor. In rural India, especially in the mountain terrains of Himachal Pradesh, people are living without any access to proper resources such as education, medical treatment and transportation. We started home based education for the families of children with special needs living in remote areas where parents cannot even afford to transport these children for education or medical treatment. A special educator visits these kids at their home 3 times a week and we arrange for the transportation of these children to the nearby town for medical treatment. We met all the 8 children supported by Smile Donor who are from different remote villages. Working with special needs children, there is nothing more joyous than seeing them develop into confident adults capable of functioning independently. These moments of triumph of the human spirit and the caring of the community, are what makes it all worthwhile.
Special needs children receiving help through Smile Donor at their home In Himachal Pradesh, India
Thank you Intel for providing us with the opportunity to enjoy some time off every few years to go explore our interests. And a big THANK YOU to Intel and all of Smile Donor supporters for their contributions towards making this vision a reality.