THE ART OF GIVING BACK
VVS Laxman and his wife Shailaja have decided to make this world a better place for deserving children in more ways than one
VVS Laxman and his wife Shailaja have decided to make this world a better place for deserving children in more ways than one.
To call the former cricketer and currently a cricket commentator, Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, better known as VVS Laxman, one of the greatest batsman of all time will not be an exaggeration. Though better known for his prowess on the cricket field, after his rather premature retirement, he is now looking beyond sports. This time, he is in the news for his philanthropic pursuits. “I am a huge believer in giving back and helping out the community and the world. Think globally, act locally, I suppose,” says the champion, continuing, “I believe that the measure of a person’s life is the effect they have on others. I’m just so very lucky to be able to do what I do for a living, and giving back is a way for me to express my gratitude. I’m so lucky to be in a position to help people, and that’s appealing to me.” The VVS Laxman Foundation is his pet project these days. “Since the last two years, my wife Shailaja and I have been trying to help underprivileged kids, but we decided to make it more organised,” says Laxman. That is when the VVS Laxman Foundation came into being. “I feel it’s not just about giving back, or whether you’re successful or a celebrity or even how much money you have, it’s about your responsibility as an adult to help others. It was actually Shailaja’s brainchild,” he adds. The project underwent a lot of trial and error, before the couple came up with a very efficient system to single out the genuinely deserving students. His wife Shailaja adds, “Giving back
is something that comes from the heart to me. It’s not that I do it because it’s the right thing: I do it because I want to do it.”
According to Shailaja, they had already been funding around 100 students, but with this Foundation, the whole procedure has become more controlled. The Foundation grants two scholarships, the Satyaram scholarship for education named after VVS’s parents, and the Baba Krishna Mohan scholarship for sports named after VVS’s mentors, who encouraged and inspired him to enter the world of cricket. So, how do they go about selecting the right candidate, we ask. “We have identified a few schools (not schools for the elite), which we feel are doing well in the field of education. We ask the administration to choose underprivileged students from the seventh standard onwards, who are doing well in studies. There is a team of experts which chooses the candidates, and they are educationists, who look into every aspect. It is a very stringent method and our focus is not just on economic strata, but to also see whether the child is up to mark and intelligent enough. Last, but not the least, the child should have the desire to work hard and do well in life,” they explain passionately. Shailaja, who is always present during these selections, explains that the kids chosen by the administration on the basis of their performance and parents’ income are once again interviewed by their team. “Most kids always talk of their ambitions to become doctors or engineers, but we test their strengths and weaknesses and counsel them accordingly. We believe in all round development, so there is stress on extracurricular activities too. We also have children who are interested in dance and cricket. We follow this up and see that they have the right kind of training and exposure, like attending dance programmes, meeting up with their role models, etc.” She adds, “My daughter loves art, so I am able to train her, but not many have the privilege. There are lots of kids who have the talent but not the financial support. I feel that these children too should be able to have these facilities.” The Foundation does not believe in mere charity, but also follows up on the students. After they select the students, they interact with the parents and take care of their fees, books and uniforms. This is followed by a regular quarterly audit to
check on the progress of the students. “Our team, along with Shailaja, visits the school, goes through the reports and keeps track on whether there is improvement in the children’s performances or whether the kids are taking the scholarship for granted,” he says. The child becomes their responsibility once chosen for the scholarship. This is not all! They also undergo regular health check ups, besides counselling sessions for the children and the parents regarding realising their kids’ dreams and their progress.” Shailaja explains further, “We select kids who are focused and know what they want in life, and for some, who are really brainy but still not sure, we try to counsel them. Some kids are really awesome. I met a girl from the seventh standard who was very sure that she wanted to become a District Collector and it was not just something fancy or superficial. She had done her home work and had notes about how the district administration worked. We are looking out for such serious kids.” VVS asserts that they had to actually stop working with certain schools because they made the parents pay for the uniform, etc. “We found this very unscrupulous as we had already paid for the student,” rues VVS, who is not only very passionate about the cause, but is also strict about its mode of functioning.
The Foundation is however not all about schooling alone but goes beyond to the field of higher studies. VVS relates, “Recently, we came to know of students who cracked the IIT but could not join because of the high fee structure. We chose four students and will be taking care of their fees, but took it in writing from them that once they completed their course and got a job, they too would support one economically backward IIT student.” During a black tie dinner event, they managed to partner with a company from Ahmedabad that was willing to sponsor 10 more IIT students, says VVS, and adds, “This kind of response is very motivating. Actually, now we have 100 students and our aim is to help at least 500 deserving students.” The Very Very Special (VVS) sportsperson explains that as a cricketer, his focus is on sports too. “I was lucky enough to have proper guidance, but unfortunately, many talented kids never get a chance to play even a local match. Recently, we had selections from districts where 772 students participated, out of which 70 were selected at the district level, and finally the best seven students attended a free coaching camp at my cricket academy and will now play league matches,” says Laxman, beaming with pride. He further reveals that it is his ultimate goal to start a sports academy with world class facilities. Though the academy would be for everyone who can afford it, 40 per cent of the students will be from the poor economic and social strata and will be trained along with other kids with the same facilities. “At the black tie dinner, we also had discussions about a partnership in creating this world class sports academy.” VVS emotionally signs off with this heartwarming message, “I believe we all have a responsibility to give back. No one can become successful without lots of hard work, support from others, and a little luck. Giving back creates a virtuous cycle that makes everyone more successful. I feel if we educate a child, we will be giving him or her a gift for life.”