In December 2011, I traveled to India and volunteered to teach at a school in rural Bangalore. The Shining Star School and Sneha Care Home are committed to educating HIV-positive children who are mostly orphans. I was so impressed by the children’s confidence and enthusiasm. They seemed more confident than kids of their age group in regular schools – a real testament to the teachers and volunteers who give them so much personal attention every day.
In early 2012, the Sneha Care and the school lost their primary source of funding due changes in Government of India policies related to HIV children’s treatment and education. The children’s lives were in the balance. I founded Learn for Life Foundation (LFL) to help the Sneha kids and disadvantaged youth like them around the world achieve their fullest potential. LFL raised funding through local events, corporations and a network of family and friends and quickly became one of the two largest financial supporters of the Sneha program.
In the summer of 2012, I returned to the Sneha Care Home to volunteer and teach at the school. This was a very rewarding and inspiring experience, and made me even more enthusiastic about making a difference in these children’s lives. The LFL team arranged for the sponsorship of these children through our network and encouraged visitors and volunteers to come and work at Sneha Care Home.
In the summer of 2013, I returned again to the Sneha Care Home for a month, this time to produce a documentary film to raise awareness about the entire Sneha project which now included Snehagram, our second phase for the adolescent students, in rural Krishnagiri, Tamil Nadu. In addition to filming and editing the documentary, I taught English, Math, and History classes. This proved to be an experience I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life.
2014 was a breakthrough year for LFL and the Sneha program. We completed the building of the TV Vareed LFL Center for online education at Snehagram. I returned in the summer to help launch the center. We were able to source used laptops from various Indian corporations for the students who would access NIOS (National Institute of Open Schooling) course material and prepare for the examinations. I spent three weeks orienting the staff and students with the laptops, NIOS course material and the new hybrid educational model where students could learn at their own pace and teachers could serve as mentors during the regular classroom hours.
In April 2015, 12 Snehagram students completed their 10th Grade equivalency requirements under the Government of India’s NIOS program, one of the first successful results of its kind for children with HIV in India. I returned in the summer and continued to teach, mentor and guide students in their preparation for vocational training and eventual re-integration back into their communities as leaders.