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May 21, 2013 > Arvindh Natarajan: student teacher

Arvindh Natarajan: student teacher

By Angie Wang
Photos By Courtesy of Uma Meyyappan

"Learn to read while you're young, so you can read to learn when you're older," quotes Mission San Jose High School sophomore Arvindh Natarajan. Arvindh has spent the past four years teaching English to elementary school children in India. After three years, he moved his classroom online, so the students could receive help more regularly.

"I started teaching for fun and at the end of the first week, when I saw the kids improve in reading, I was amazed that I could make a difference," Arvindh says. "The feeling I got when I saw the kids smiling and beginning to read really got me going. That's when I thought to do it diligently and take it to the next level."

Arvindh's students attend a government owned school in a small village in India. The school consists of students from first to fifth grade, with five teachers in total. Classrooms are separated by dividers. When Arvindh was present during summer months, he taught essay writing and phonetic pronunciation in 10-day shifts. He developed games that he continues to use as he teaches from his home in Fremont.

Raising over $1000, Arvindh launched online computer lessons. He and four volunteers take advantage of the time difference between the United States and India to help about twenty students in the U.S. evenings (school time for the kids in India). Though online lessons are more convenient, power shortages often interrupt the connection. To solve this problem, Arvindh bought a backup "inverter" power system which charges the computer when there is power so the internet can be used without interruption.

Power outages aren't the only problems Arvindh and his volunteers have dealt with. "There were other difficulties after the school was closed for ten days for a holiday," he explains. "When they came back, the students found that mice had chewed the cables for the webcam and microphone, so I had [to replace them.] It's been an interesting journey."

In 2012, Arvindh received the Kids 4 Change Karmaveer Puraskaar award for his work with students in India. The Karmaveer Puraskaar awards are the National People's Awards for Citizen Social Justice and Action instituted by the citizens and people of India. These awards celebrate and inspire social responsibility, justice, and action initiatives.

Though his efforts are time consuming, Arvindh enjoys the relationships and connections he makes with his students. "They call me 'Anna' which means 'big brother' and they look up to me as a mentor," he says. "It's such a great feeling and it motivates me to continue to help."

In the future, Arvindh plans to record videos of his lessons and learn other Indian languages so he can reach out to more children. He hopes to build a library or buy a second computer with the rest of the money he has raised. For more information on Arvindh's organization, visit www.helping2read.org.

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