The Wings of Hope is an international charity located in the UK, Malawi and India. It takes up the cause of underprivileged children through a range of fund-raising projects in the U.K. The charity co-founded by Mrs Rajni Sriram and her husband Dr R Sriram in the year 2004 is a sparkling example of how NRIs can give back to the country where they were born and raised, or their roots belong. The team at Wings of Hope believes education is every child’s right. It believes empowering through education will break the cycle of dependency and enable children to escape financial destitution to promote long-term sustainable development in developing countries. Their objective is to provide quality, long-term education over periods of up to 10 years for children in developing countries. One of their projects supports a school in Nemilicherry (Chrompet Township) in Chennai. The school offers quality holistic education to around 400 aged 14-16 years. Much emphasis is placed on value-based education, under the saying “the end of education is character”. Mrs Sriram was in India with the team of boys that won the Wings of Hope Achievement Award (WOHAA), a fund-raising activity that involves school children across the U.K. Our team of Gunjan Sharma and Farhana Khan caught up with them and conducted an interview. Here is how it went

L to R: Akshay Dhamecha, Savan Shah, Rajni Sriram, Shiran Amin, Kunal Dasani

Please let us know how you came to set up the Wings of Hope charity?
I was born and brought up in India. I did my education here and I went to UK. We set our up own business and were doing well in it. So, it was at that point of time that when we were growing in our business that we felt the time was ripe to give back. So the fundamental reason was to give back to the society and the easiest and the most quickest way to do that was to set up something for India because we are from India. Also we had a base here of people who could help us out since sitting 5,000 miles away it was always going to be a tough ask. So when you have friends and family who can help you, India became a natural choice in terms of giving back. For us Indians, education is the big thing. Our parents tighten up their wealth to educate us. I went to a convent school and education was not that cheap but my father gave us the best education within his means. That is what we Indians like to do. So the natural progression was giving back through education. That’s how Wings of Hope came up.

What has been the key focus of this charity?
The key focus is to give free education to those in need. So we have projects in India and Malawi. Taking these projects further became the key focus. The natural progression was to do something for our own students in England and that’s how we set up the Wings of Hope Achievement Award to help even our own. Although we are born and brought up in India, over the years you develop a bond and an affinity with the country you reside in. Even in the U.K. there’s a need for education. No matter how prosperous the U.K. is, countries like China are producing graduates in thousands. The same cannot be said of the U.K. From tenth standard onwards lots of students drop out and become apprentices. So that’s why we thought we would do something for the country we are living in and we set up the awards scheme to give our children an extra boost to enhance their skills to learn.

What brought you to India this time?
Hundreds of students from different schools in the U.K. take part at the Wings of Hope Achievements Award (WOHAA). The students form teams and do fund-raising projects lasting 5 to 6 months. Being a competition they go through hoops, as in stage one, stage two. We choose teams for different categories, best communication skills, and best presentation. Apart from these, there is an overall team that has managed to tick all the boxes, the Wow Team. And there was a team of five boys who were the overall winners. The final prize for the overall winners are brought to India on an all-expense paid trip and their flights, travels, rooms are taken care by the charity because that is the big prize they aim for. And when they come here, they work at the project school we support in Chennai.

Why did you choose Malawi?
Malawi actually fell onto my lap. I had no idea it was coming. We were only doing work in India because as I said it was easy and we had people to help but when we started WOH. But there was this teacher in one of the North London Schools whose friend was working with the Department of Foreign International Development (DFID). It’s a Government scheme which the British Government runs to fund or develop international projects. So this teacher’s friend was working with DFID in Malawi and every weekend she would go that school and teach the orphans English and Mathematics. We have mainly Muslims and Christians in Malawi and their spoken language is English. This teacher one fine evening called me and asked for my help. There was a Christian Korean Church which was funding this school and they stopped sending them money, and she asked me to meet her friend. I actually ended up asking where Malawi was, for up to that point in time I didn’t know where it was on the world map. Then I did a search on Malawi and learnt that it’s rife with HIV and teenage pregnancy. They have no money, they can’t go to school, and it’s a very sad scene. Then Lucy, the one working with DFID, told me about the project, and the immediate needs. So I took on the project and that’s how it fell into my lap.

Would you like to expand your work to other countries?
No. I would like to concentrate in India as the need here is so much. If I could work more in India then that would be my first choice but I don’t want to spread myself a lot because if I can make a difference to one solid school or two projects then I know I have achieved something rather than messing up things.

You will be interacting with India Development Foundation (IDF) for Overseas Indians. What are you expectations from the meeting?
I would really like to expand this program because one of the subtle features about WOH is that we have so much of Indian population within the U.K., about 1.5 - 1.6 million. Through its project, Wings of Hope is connecting these second or third generation Indians to India. This is the direct impact—we are bridging this gap between Indians and India. So that’s what WOH is doing, connecting overseas Indians with India and that’s an idea I would like to expand upon. I am also happy to take on more work. I am confident that the IDF will help because they are more knowledgeable and are meant to assist charities such as ours that are run by NRIs or Overseas Indians.

Is your curriculum approved by the Indian Government?
Well, it’s a proper school and they follow the CBSE system. But it’s a free school so all the students who attend don’t have to pay anything.

“I am passionate about the work I do. I am confident that in time, we will be able to connect hundreds of our Indian students based in the U.K. with India through our programme. And also in time India will be their natural choice for connecting with others not only through philanthropy, but business and commerce as well.”
Mrs Rajni Sriram
CEO, Wings of Hope
“I believe all students should take part in WOHAA. Not only do you develop personal skills and the process is great fun but also it is very satisfying to know that you are helping someone who is less fortunate than ourselves in the UK. Knowing that these children can be successful in life thanks to our help and support is truly indescribable. In all, I can say our experience in India was a lifetime experience and I strongly encourage other students in the UK to take part!
When teaching at the school it made us realize how lucky we are in the UK. Teaching these children was very inspiring as they were constantly enthusiastic to learn and always smiling and content. I believe WOHAA provides an excellent platform for us students who raise the money as well the children that we are helping in Chennai in so many ways.
It is very satisfying to realise how we as students can actually make a huge change and difference to so many lives; we know we are giving them a bright future. Wings of Hope does not just provide education, it provides high quality education; when teaching in the school we realised—thanks to WOHAA and the fundraisers in the UK—that the school has been fortunate enough to be facilitated with a large IT suite and chemistry labs. It is very inspiring to see how all this hard work will truly change the lives of 400 children!”
Akshay Dhamecha
Merchant Taylor’s School, London
“We went to teach in a school in Chennai and it was something we completely weren’t expecting. It was amazing, very modern and the children were so enthusiastic to learn. It really was a once in a lifetime experience and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone else.
In India there is a lot of poverty and children generally can’t afford to go to school. Wings of Hope are providing free education for over 400 children which is really amazing.
I would recommend WOHAA to new participants because not only does it enable you to give back, it enables you to gain a whole new skill set.”
Shiran Amin
Merchant Taylor’s School, London
“We won the competition and went out to India. It was an amazing experience. We taught in the school and saw how enthusiastic the children were. They were so keen to learn. We taught them lessons, games and all about the Olympics and Jubilee. I can say that it was a really rewarding experience.
The Wings of Hope are making such a huge impact in India and without their help some of these children wouldn’t be able get to where they want to be in life. The Wings of Hope have also transformed my life, I have learnt so many new skills throughout the process including time management, leadership, organisational skills and also managing my time not only within WOHAA but also with my school work.”
Savan Shah
Merchant Taylor’s School, London
“What makes WOHAA such a fantastic programme is that it is created for students by students. We were given a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit India and see the amazing work that Wings of Hope are doing. It was a really rewarding experience and one I will never forget. It was so inspiring to see the enthusiasm of the children and how they were all so keen to learn.
With the help of the Wings of Hope and the many students in the UK who have taken part in WOHAA to raise money, less privileged children are given new opportunities and access to free education. Taking part in WOHAA has also given me new skills such as time management, communication, organisational skills and creativity.”
Kunal Dasani
Merchant Taylor’s School, London


November 2012

click here to enlarge