It was remarkable to watch Deepa, a student from Sri Vidya College of Arts in Sivakasi, captivating the audience by her fluent talk in English for a full minute. From the stage, as she spoke in a new language she had only recently learnt, she radiated poise and confidence. Appreciating the value she got from Project Punch, a signature initiative of RID 3212, she said, “Until two months ago, I would not have even dreamt of going up on stage and facing a hall full of people. I couldn’t even speak a simple sentence in English that was grammatically correct.”
Project Punch has played a pivotal role in this amazing transformation in Deepa and over 5,500 other students through workshops in spoken English and public speaking, which have given these young individuals a vital skill that can unlock opportunities and empower them to pursue their dreams.
Says IPDG V R Muthu: “We worked out this programme in response to suggestions from parents and heads of educational institutions for a spoken English course that would help students speak the language fluently. We understand the aspirations of parents who desire that their children excel in English, and the invaluable advantages it brings in today’s competitive world, particularly in employment.”
RID 3212 comprises the southernmost districts — Kanyakumari, Ramnathapuram, Virudhunagar, Thoothukudi and Tirunelveli; regions where English is generally not a preferred language for communication. “Even in the English medium schools here the teachers interact with students in Tamil, the local language. I understood the importance of English when I had to stay in Mumbai on work for four years. As I did not know Hindi or Marathi, I could manage with my limited knowledge of English, and in due course, became fairly fluent in it,” says Muthu.
Recognising the power of communication skills as a gateway to broader horizons, he initiated this project to train school/college students, and teachers as well. “We included B Ed trainees too so that as future teachers they will be competent in the language.”
Skilled instructors from Beehive Communications Club, a training organisation headed by A Shyamraj, a member of RC Virudhunagar, did the training. Fifty workshops were completed by June-end, enabling participants to shed their shyness and face an audience. Each batch had 100 students undergoing 15 hours of training. The cost, ₹1,000 a student, was borne by the Rotary clubs sponsoring them.
“The programme is not just about mastering words and grammar; it is about empowering students to confidently express themselves and connect with the world through interactive sessions, group discussions and role plays,” says Shyamraj. “The curriculum is similar to the Toastmasters’ programme. Each student is trained to go up on stage, hold a mike and deliver a speech,” says Preetha, one of the instructors.
“I can now confidently step out of my comfort zone and survive anywhere. Communication is no longer a barrier. Since we have been trained in public speaking, none of us are crowd-shy and we can put our thoughts across effectively,” says Deepa.
Shyamraj says that at the VOC B Ed College, Thoothukudi, where Project Punch was conducted for the students a month before their interviews, “everyone got placement this year in various schools. The principal said that the recruiters were happy with their presentation skills and thanked us for the workshop.”
The project is now gearing up for Level-II where five students will be shortlisted for an advanced workshop comprising a two-day session on delivering an extempore speech and hosting an event as an emcee.
Project Punch and the 55 sessions of the Yadhumanaval programme were among the signature projects that were largely appreciated by DG Muthiah Pillai and past governors Sathappa Periannan, K Vijayakumar, H Shajahan and S Sheik Saleem at a felicitation event hosted by IPDG Muthu’s home club, RC Virudhunagar.
Laying down office as DG on June 30, Muthu is happy that Yadhumanaval (April 23 Rotary News) has reached out to over 70,000 youngsters, the Kalam project has helped over 10,000 individuals with career guidance, Vignyana Ratham has spread love for science in one lakh school students and Iraivi has addressed various forms of teenage challenges in 33,000 adolescent girls including distribution of undergarments to 5,000 marginalised girls.
“It was like a slap on my face when I first heard a girl say with much hesitation: ‘many of us do not have the underwear to place the sanitary pad that you have so kindly given.’ That woke us all up and since then we have been including a pack of three underwear for each girl, while distributing sanitary napkins to underprivileged girls,” says Gayathri Mariraj, project coordinator of Iraivi.
Picture by Jaishree