Meet Prahlad: Empowering Education and Debates with NOSFAM and Shabd

Prahlad Madhu, a dedicated and passionate 17-year old talks about his organisation NOSFAM (Not a school family), an educational student-led initiative. It is devoted to educating the underprivileged – and his recent venture, Shabd. Akshara, a student reporter from YOCee spoke to Prahlad regarding his journey so far and his plans for the future of these organizations.

Question: What made you realise that you were passionate about educating the underprivileged?
Prahlad: Initially, during my 9th grade, all of my extracurriculars such as debating and other competitions were with kids from an established financial background and were very expensive to attend. This made me aware of the fact that the expense of such a program itself is a demotivating factor to most.

I was discussing with Aarya – the co-founder of NOSFAM – and she was telling me about how she helped her domestic helper’s daughter with a test and it worked out well. I told her that we should take the initiative because she has the skills of a teacher and I cannot accept the idea that I’m one of the few privileged people who get to have access to education. As a result, the first place we surveyed was the domestic helper’s colony and it was too hard-hitting, because they made us feel like home despite their lack of resources to do so. From our survey, we found that the kids who did go to school did not know the basics like alphabet and numbers. And that’s how NOSFAM was born.

Q: What differentiates NOSFAM from other organizations?
Prahlad: It’s “For students, by students” and that’s our USP. We are a fully-fledged NGO and we’re also high schoolers, hence I would argue that it makes it easier for students to learn because they can connect with us easier than a 25-year-old, for example. We also have flexible working patterns to ensure that we all get to balance our workloads against our other commitments.


Q: What are the challenges you faced and what are the plans for the future?
Prahlad: The biggest challenge which I would say was finding NOSFAM’s own true identity. Initially, we started by teaching kids at our school – who are not underprivileged by any means – extracurricular activities like debate. A year later we realized that this wasn’t what I wanted to do because they could afford it anyway, and so we made the decision – from here we move to social impact. The transition was difficult because there were a multitude of unanswered questions such as what curriculum to use, what language we teach in and how we go to the village, to name a few. One big barrier I would flag out right away is continuation. As most of us see ourselves in various places in the next 2 years, where we would be one year down the line is still uncertain. To ensure our organization is still breathing, we are looking at recruiting middle schoolers and the others who aren’t physically available can provide mentor support by checking in regularly. We are looking at moving our resources online and making use of other resources too, once we figure out how we are going to bring digital access to the kids at the village.

Q: What were your criteria for selecting the people who run different chapters of NOSFAM?
Prahlad: We currently have two chapters, one in Aurangabad and one in Kolkata. With Aurangabad, it was a straightforward decision as he was previously working in NOSFAM Manipal and already knew our internal structure well. With Kolkata, selecting the head was difficult because we did not know her personally, so we took a gamble and decided to play with it. There was one instance where it didn’t work out and that was when we had a chapter in Kingston, Jamaica. It ran very well for a year but due to various reasons like lack of a succession plan it failed to be continued. Looking back, I would say the only criteria we used and will continue to use is to see if they are as passionate as we were when we started NOSFAM, and not starting it only for college applications. Mostly, it’s leveraging the connections we all have that allow us to start chapters and collaborations.

Q: Let’s move on to Shabd. What is Shabd’s mission and what are the next steps you are planning to take?
Prahlad: It’s essentially a debating community and a business venture, unlike NOSFAM. However, we are planning to take on any not-for-profit projects that would come our way. Ideally, we aim to make debating cheaper. The prominent debate organizations in India are very populated, have too many experienced debaters and most importantly, are very expensive. The tournaments too require separate entrance fees which are pretty hefty. There’s also a lack of personal attention and enjoyment due to the high population. We wanted to solve this and hence, we started Shabd. Our class size is only 10 students and we already have 9 mentors which is more than most established organizations. Our next immediate steps involve hiring debate coaches and also putting forth Shabd’s mission, which will soon be up on our website and Instagram.

Q: How does your family support you about both Shabd and NOSFAM?
Prahlad: At home, my dad is supportive of my work in terms of giving resources when I need help and guidance. He always emphasized that while I should strive to give my best, it’s important to not blanket myself with academics so that there’s no time to focus on other parts of my life. Although my dad is very encouraging, it ultimately boils down to me and ensuring – by prioritizing – that I don’t let my performance at school or otherwise fall down. Academics is the basic metric that we have in today’s world and that has been very clear and straightforward with my dad since day one.

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