The Coca-Cola ‘Support My School’ initiative was conceptualised to bring about a tremendous increase in the number of children going to school in rural and semi-urban areas. To check the high drop-out rates, the project involved the identification of hindrances leading to low attendance levels. This exercise made the project partners and volunteers aware of the enormity of the underlying problems. Lack of infrastructure, sanitation facilities and drinking water were a few of the glaring problems. At the microcosmic level thus, sub-projects were kick started to address these issues, in 2011. In 2014, Coca-Cola’s Support My School campaign steered the project to aid the on-going efforts of the Government in the success of the ‘Swachh Bharat, Swachh Vidyalaya’ campaign.
From the outset, SMS focused on ‘provision’ and ‘education’ equally. The project aimed to provide access to potable water, build separate washrooms for girls and boys, inculcating a sense of responsibility, and upholding the learning to maintain the provisions.
Obviously a few partners or even a group of like-minded organisations could not have single-handedly accomplished this. So Coca-Cola, NDTV and UN Habitat decided to make this an ‘open source model based’ project. Any organisation that could add value to this project could become a potential partner. The rest as they say is history. In came partners like Tata Tele, Pearson Foundation, Aarambh, Sabuj Sangha, Ruchi, Force and Bless among others.
Since the inception of SMS, more than 2 lac students in 600+ schools have benefited from these initiatives. While the numbers have made evident the efforts of the numerous partners involved in the country-wide campaign, there is more that points to the success of the movement.
Maintaining personal hygiene as well as in their surroundings, eating healthy has become as much of a habit as coming to school daily, for students. These practices have also trickled down to communities. Building infrastructure for playing indoor and outdoor games has not only provided them with physical exercise and mental recreation, but also inculcated a sense of leadership and healthy competition in the children. For example, students in Raninagar Primary School of West Bengal’s Jalpaiguri District have taken up the responsibility of maintaining the cleanliness of washrooms. They have taken up more such responsibilities through Student Parliament, Sanitation Clubs, and Bal Swachhta Committees to maintain the interventions made through SMS.
No doubt, these changes serve as motivation for Coca-Cola India and its partners to persevere in their aim of increasing low-attendance rates in schools. But to see that the mission has brought about a change in the lives of their communities as well, is a success that cannot be measured by any number. For every SMS volunteer, the mission is as much about empowering communities to lead healthier lives as it is about getting children to go to school every day. Coca-Cola and its partners are now working to create 1,000 such model schools in the country. A beginning has been made.