With over 22,000 students through its 24 schools, colleges and academies,Vivekanand Education Society(VES) in India is uniquely positioned to disseminate useful inputs on physical, mental and emotional wellness. As the President of VES, Shri Baldev Boolani puts it, “The mind matters a great deal. There are three key emotions that affect mind: fear, anger and negativity. These arise due to various reasons, and, in the case of students, are often intertwined with low self-confidence, lack of objectivity and an inability to analyse one’s actions for self-improvement. Hence it is essential for us, in VES, to help our students learn the science and art of mind-management.”
I spoke with Piya Mukherjee, Director of VESLARC about the various initiatives VES has focused on health and wellbeing and why these are important.
Why is health and wellbeing important for students and staff at VES?
Mental wellness and holistic health is emerging as a major area of concern, and consequently, as an important area of opportunity, for improving productivity in a healthy manner. This is true for India and for the world. The advantage of doing so is two-pronged: healthy students and staff make for better learners and teachers, thereby enhancing the impact of education, and more importantly, healthy habits thus acquired in childhood and youth tend to last through adult-hood, thus enabling a healthy society, and creating a wider, longer-lasting benefit. Hence VES considers such a focus on health to be a sacred responsibility.
What is VES doing around health and wellbeing?
All institutes within VES conduct various kinds of activities such as short talks, student-led activities and workshops, centered around good-health practices for the body and more importantly, the mind. These could range from a one-off session on “Yogasana for managing stress perception” to year-long processes involving several expert speakers and interactive sessions. Additionally, VES Leadership Academy and Research Centre (VESLARC), a unique hub-academy created in 2010 within VES, works towards disseminating inputs on this theme through several workshops on themes like mental health, de-stigmatising the process of counselling, daily practices for higher physical immunity, super-foods for better health, and so on.
What sort of initiatives are being undertaken, both on campus and in the community?
The various schools, colleges and academies of VES work towards health and wellbeing using a diverse range of initiatives. While some of these initiatives are common to multiple institutions, others are unique.
VES Institute of Technology collaborated with the doctors of JJ Hospital and Raktapedhi to organise a blood donation camp in their college. The event was a huge success with an overwhelming 210 students and staff registering for blood donation out of which 162 were eligible for donation, after the hemoglobin and blood pressure tests that were conducted. A staggering 314 students and staff members came forward to register their DNA in the national registry as potential marrow donors.
At VES Arts Science Commerce College, a 7 days’ yoga training camp was conducted by the University of Mumbai in collaboration with Kaivalyadham Institute and HSNCB Board. Over 300 volunteers practiced yoga for another 5 days along, and also attended practical and theory sessions of 2 hours every day. This included a special presentation on “Yoga for Health and Harmony.
A training programme on the prevention of HIV/AIDs was organised by Mumbai District Aids Control Society (MDACS). Student volunteers from the college received the training and then performed Flash Mob activities in different places to create awareness about AIDS. Students were also involved in a polio vaccination drive aimed at children 0-5 years old and a Malaria awareness rally in underprivileged communities living in slums in Mumbai.
Awareness campaigns on a wide range of important themes including generic medicines, hand-washing, menstruation-hygiene, nutrition and sexual health awareness have been conducted in the community by students and staff of VES College of Pharmacy, in collaboration with a number of organisations. VES Institute of Management Studies and Research has adopted five villages in Panvel district, where they are working with the local communities to raise awareness about hygiene and health care, medical services and water purification.
Additionally, eye- checkup camps, dental checkups and BMI checkup camps were also conducted at several VES schools and colleges.
How are these initiatives connected with the SDGs?
Most of our health and wellness related activities are linked to SDG 3, i.e. good health and well-being. However, there are two added dimensions to this. While we work towards wellness of our student-community, and other key stakeholders such as staff members and parents of students, we are also sensitive to the need to attune our students to a wider social good. Hence, activities that help wellness inputs spread to society at large are greatly encouraged. Thus, the students of one of our institutes may volunteer their time and skills at a shelter for the underprivileged, sharing with the residents various aspects of healthy habits, while students of another institute may enact street-plays to spread awareness about the ills of consumption of tobacco
Another dimension is that SDG is linked to many, if not all of the other SDGs. We believe in paying special attention to wellness initiatives for the marginalized and the underprivileged, both, within the VES family, and in society. So our students conduct health-camps and free medical check-ups for local residents who belong to an economically underprivileged– this brings SDG 10 (reducing inequality). In this manner, there are interwoven imperatives that lie beyond the mere linkage of our wellness activities to SDG 3. We are confident that this wider and more holistic approach not only enables wellness among our students and key stakeholders, but also has a positive ripple effect in society.
There are three new initiatives planned for health and wellness in 2020. The first is Project “Santulan” (“Balance” in Hindi). Project Santulan refers to a mental wellness initiative under which the VESLARC team will be visiting our VES students in their respective institutes to conduct short, interactive workshops on various aspects of mental wellness, such as managing the rise and fall of one’s emotions, dealing with disappointments in a constructive manner, enhancing one’s self-esteem, overcoming peer-group pressure by shifting one’s attitudes for the better, and so on.
We are planning to conduct a series of workshops through VESLARC on building “immunity” for the mind, i.e. mental-emotional resilience, for students in the 16-18 age group. The first of these workshops have already been rolled out at one of our VES institutes.
While psychological counselling has always been important to us, we are stepping up emphasis on awareness-building, and also normalize the process of reaching out for help, by de-stigmatizing terms such as “counselling”, increasing the use of posters and e-content for counselling, and talking about this in various workshops. The objective is to ensure that every student is aware of two things: the mind can go through its ups-and-downs just as the body goes through illness, and that, help is only a phone call away.
Further, there is increasing emphasis on integrating sports into the students’ time-table, for myriad benefits. As our President puts it, “In India, schools and colleges have neglected sports. Sports give the benefit of physical and mental health to students. Further, those who desire to make career in sports can be made aware that sports is science.”
Thus, we hope to steadily create an ever-widening series of positive impact-points in our students and in society.