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SACRED HEART HAS A BIG HEART

After a rigorous day at the campus, Shyamli Suneesh, a student at Sacred Heart, walks into a room full of elderly people where a role reversal of sorts happens. Here, Shyamli dons the role of a teacher, offering classes for senior citizens who could not acquire skills, even language, during their childhood.

What Shyamli does is part of an initiative called Age Friendly, supported by Magic NGO. The initiative is part of the University of the Third Age (U3A) that aims at providing training to retired and elderly persons. The learning programme aims at providing them the opportunity to learn new skills, start new businesses and find post-retirement employment.

At the Sacred Heart, students offer classes in IT, Spoken English, Communicative French and Hindi.

“Initially we offered free classes in Spoken English and Computers, but given the immense interest shown by the students, we have newly introduced Hindi and French. Persons who are above 40 can apply for respective courses. The classes are held twice a week from 3:30 pm to 4:30 pm/5 pm,” says Shyamlee, who takes French classes.

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The classes at Sacred Heart are for people from all kinds of backgrounds, ranging from those who couldn’t complete their school education to those who have studied till postgraduation. For other skills, there are Navy officers to doctors to homemakers.

“But when in our class, each and every one of them is like tiny tots who are curious to learn something new each day. For one, it’s the fulfillment of completing school education and for the other, it’s an enhanced experience of re-living college life. We have so much to learn from them, especially from the enthusiasm they show to learn even at such an age. They keep proving every single day that age is no barrier to achieve, it’s only a number,” says Shyamli

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And there’s life beyond classes. The college will host Fresher’s Day for the new batches and convocation ceremony after their exams. “Donning hats, armed with graduation certificates, they are a picture of happiness and contentment. Fruits of success, all from their soulful hard work and determination, it’s writ large on their faces,” says Nirmal Shaji, another volunteer at Sacred heart.

There are also workshops where they pick up things that add value to their daily lives. For example, there are inspirational talks by famous personalities, zumba sessions, workshops for making daily usable items by hand. The list goes on. Sometimes, there are one-day tours where students get to interact with each other and have fun.

“I have personally gained a lot from actively participating in club activities. I was able to explore a lot about myself, learn from a lot of new experiences and try my hand out in experimenting various areas from organizing and coordinating events, choreographing dance-drama, large scale painting for backdrops of events, funding and sponsorship and above all, most importantly I discovered my dimension in teaching (learned lots of patience),” says Shyamli, who was teaching IT in her first year and spoken English in her second year.

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“Our biggest happiness is seeing them in their most jovial state; the excitement in them and the big wide smiles on their faces. Every action we do is purely out of the act of selfless service. I sincerely thank our volunteers who take out the time and effort to do so,” says Shyamli.

“Personally, it has been an incredible experience. It gives me the utmost satisfaction when I see their happiness after a class or session. For us, it could be a small thing or even insignificant, but for the elderly, it makes a huge difference in their lives. Most of them prefer to study computer and mobile applications. The club is like a family for all of us and it has been an amazing experience,” says Devika CP, who is the coordinator of the course this year.
Abin Ambily, who is the Faculty Coordinator, says this is one of the best initiatives undertaken by the college.

“This Age-Friendly Club is one of our several initiatives devoted to social work, but with confidence, I can say it is one of the most effective and perhaps the most popular one. We have over 100 elderly people coming for the classes and almost all of them want to repeat/take the classes next year. That itself shows how effective the course is. More than that, what makes us proud is the fact that most of them go out with better mental health and increased happiness quotient. We have done tested their mental health with social work tools and the results are most satisfying. In a way, it’s a scientifically proven study,” says Abin who credits most of the success of the initiative to Sacred Heart principal Fr Prasanth Palakkappilly.

This year the college is planning to conduct a ‘Kalolsavam’ for them. There will be multiple competitions and at the end of it, Kala Thilakam and Kala Prathibha will be announced.

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