Dreams for a better world

Kaumudi Nagaraju
Co-founder & Executive Director
Learning Space Foundation ten h

Passionate about co-creating a world that works well for everyone — where every human’s basic
needs for safety, respect and health are met and  where there is an equitable focus on growth, Kaumudi Nagaraju founded an NGO called Learning Space Foundation. Having started her career as VLSI design engineer and then becoming a social activist and academician, she has been trying to use her education and experience to understand the problems faced by the underprivileged and possible ways to meet their needs efficiently. With her team, she is working for prevention of Child Sexual Abuse, empowering adolescents and  youth through life skills, gender sensitization, basic legal education and awareness on sexual and reproductive health.

As they say, the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step; hers started that way too. She says there have been many triggers which led to the inception of LSF.

She comes from a very small village, so small that they didn’t have electricity until she was 12 years old. Growing up, she faced a lot of bias based on her skin color and lower economic status. She was underestimated and made fun of, so she has always dreamt of a fair and happy world. But she is also a grateful recipient of all the support she was given.

Having been raised in a very small village and then going on to  work in the US, transforming from a shy, hesitant and unsure young girl who needed constant validation and assistance and  who would be easily discouraged until had that extra boost to a courageous and strong woman – the journey was not easier but there were many people who helped her in her journey and inspired her at every step.

She believes that every person and every situation can teach you if you are open to learn and she got inspired by many. From her parents she understood the true happiness of giving and that one does not need to be rich to give. From her husband, she learnt the beauty of giving without expecting anything in return.

She learnt the real meaning of being compassionate, how to expand her comfort zone, how to lead her emotional state and how to unpack the wisdom hidden beneath the tubulnece from her gurus and from people she met. She says “Who else will understand the value of giving if not the one who received the most?”

And on the other side life gave her umpteen opportunities which she mistook initially as hard stops and threats but which made her later think and repurpose herself. Soon after she moved back to India from US to stay with family, she lost her mother to cancer. Devastated, she sunk into depression, totally cut off from the outside world.  It took some time to gather herself and restart her career. After 3 years of work, she had to undergo a spine surgery, and her career was on a break, again. It was terrifying; bed rest for months, boundless restrictions against driving, writing and even turning her neck. Physiotherapy had its limit, and some restrictions were for life, but she decided to move on.

Soon , she joined IIIT-H and worked alongside the director for a few projects, where they would train engineering students, to make them more employable and independent. They even trained lecturers in the aspects of pedagogy and soft skills. This transformation, from an engineer to a trainer, was an exciting new path in her life, which she enjoyed a lot. The time spent in colleges, revealed few surprising facts regarding the learning abilities of this generation. Being spoon fed their entire life, students lack certain real-life skills. This was the reason  for the coming up of the idea of Learning Space Foundation as a charitable organization by conviction.

LSF acted as an implementation and training partner for a few projects for shelter homes and government schools, where children were trained to improve their science and math skills as well as self-leadership skills. It was during this period that she came across an incident where a young girl was being sexually abused by her own grandfather. She didn’t know how to handle this situation, and this put her in deep thought. She found that not many NGO’s were currently working in this area. Yes, good food and health are extremely important for a child’s development, but so is safety. There are several cases which go unreported, involving both girls and boys. So, in 2018, LSF was registered as an NGO with a mission to prevent child sexual abuse, to ensure child safety, to empower adolescents & youth through life skills, gender sensitization and to create awareness.

As child sexual abuse was a sensitive topic, she didn’t want to go into the field unqualified. She connected with Arpan, a Mumbai based organization, to get trained on Personal Safety Education. When she approached a school to talk about this, a teacher narrated an incident where a young boy was convicted under POCSO act and jailed for marrying a minor girl. Such incidents occur due to the lack of awareness of the legalities involved. So, she started ‘Suraksha Aur Samman’ project where children and youth are educated in an age-appropriate manner about personal safety, basic legal education, importance of making safe decisions and adults are educated about personal safety of children. Starting with 3 schools in 2018 and 10 schools in 2019-20, she’s on her way to make a difference in every child’s life. On the other hand, many girls and women are being molested and sexually harassed. The solution is not just teaching girls and women about their own safety and saying ‘NO’ to unwanted advances, but also to train boys in preserving their self-respect by respecting other genders and accepting a ‘NO’. With this thought, she expanded the scope of ‘Suraksha Aur Samman’ project.

There’s another program by her NGO, so close to her heart, called ‘The Rose that Grew from Concrete’, where they recognize children who work hard and try to emerge as winners not just in academics but many other aspects, even though they deal with multiple challenges in their lives. There are children who help their parents in work, who reach school on time, who strive to be perfect in their academics, even when they are tired and starving. These children are praised and presented mementos during their school assemblies. She is aware of the importance such actions hold in one’s life. She says “I wouldn’t be where I am today, if it wasn’t for those kind gestures. Every child needs encouragement to blossom. Their eyes lit up when they were praised, they were beaming with happiness for being recognized. Every child needs encouragement to blossom. If this doesn’t encourage them, what will?’

During the lockdown due to Covid-19 pandemic, she worked closely with the Covid control room setup by the police to help the needy. She raised over Rs 11 lakh and supported orphanages, migrant workers, daily-wage workers, transgenders and the disabled persons with dry ration, cooked meals and sanitary pads, supported front-line warriors with hygiene kits, face shields and masks and provided a washing machine to support doctors working in NIMS Covid ward, supported education of 8 students whose parents became jobless due to the pandemic. For all her services, she was recognized with a ‘CovidYoddha’ award by Sevak1 and C2C News, ‘Covid-19 Good Samaritan’ certificate by Cyberabad Police Commissioner, she was featured in medium.com by Reap Benefit, and also in Momspresso.

As child safety was a major concern during the pandemic, she conducted many virtual sessions for parents, adults, social workers and many NGOs on child safety and Mental Healthcare Act. In addition, with support from a dedicated volunteer, she started ‘Sreyobhilaashi’ workshop to educate adults and help them to initiate conversations with their children on personal safety in an age-appropriate manner and participate in creating a safe environment for children. Her aim is to teach personal safety to all the children through these trained adults and prevent sexual assaults on them. In addition, many parents express doubts over talking to their children on this topic and they also hesitate in answering questions that the children may ask while talking about this. So, she thinks that creating a community and supporting each other will help in talking to the children in an effective manner. She also conducted cyber safety sessions to many children and adults.

She’s a lifelong learner. As she wanted to improve her knowledge, skills and abilities, she did MBA during the recovery phase after spine surgery, a PG diploma in Education Management and Administration; diploma in Training and Development, MA (Education), various certifications and trainings and is currently pursuing MA psychology. She’s a guest faculty at National Academy of Agricultural Research and Management (NAARM), developed content for a few courses in PG diploma in Education Technology and Management offered by University of Hyderabad and NAARM and gives guest lectures for MBA students.

As she loves to support girls and women, she is volunteering with GirlzFTW and mentoring a teenage girl. She understands how difficult it is to get back to work after a sabbatical as she had multiple breaks in her career which made her join Prayaana as a mentor. She wants to help women, mentoring them on their return to work.

She’s thankful for every person that contributed towards the causes of LSF and took them forward. She hopes to pave way for a better future, filled with love and joy, for generations to come.

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