written by Vineet Bhatnagar
Hi all! This is the first of many blog posts on the new-look Shine website. After a feeble attempt to start a blog last year while I was in Zambia, I’m trying again!
So to kick off the new blog I’d like to write a few paragraphs about who I am and what Shine is all about.
Who I am
My name is Vineet Bhatnagar and I’m the founder and Chairman of Shine, a charity I started up in 2006. Apart from the work I do for Shine, I am also an IT consultant who does contract work in London to re-fill my wallet between 6-month stints in Zambia when I’m volunteering for Shine!
What is Shine?
Shine is a charity that aims to tackle the problem of illiteracy among the poorest children in Zambia, southern Africa. It’s a registered charity (no. 1117954) in England and its local branch Shine Zambia is also a registered charity in Zambia. To begin achieving our aim, we’ve built our own specialist literacy school in a shanty town in the capital, Lusaka. It’s called Shine Zambia Reading Academy and has been running for a few years now. We have 105 children and 5 local teachers. The kids don’t pay anything and we provide them with a meal on a daily basis.
Since Day 1 we’ve had the participation of the local community and they have a strong sense of ownership over the school. All our teachers, our school co-ordinator, gardener, PTA members, and the 30-odd people I hired as labour during the construction projects come from the local community.
What inspired me to set up Shine?
I set up Shine after I spent 6 months volunteering in a Zambian community school in 2005. I’d taken a sabbatical from my former permanent job as a management consultant, and went out to Zambia. Not through an organisation – I just packed a bag and flew out there, made contact with a local community school and was allowed to teach there.
One of the first things I noticed in the school was that few of the children could actually read or write, despite being in class and blindly copying down what they saw on the board with the other 40 or 50-odd children. With the blessing of the teachers at the school, I set up a remedial literacy programme for the weakest children. Over 6 months I worked with small groups, using phonics to teach them how to sound out the letters and blend them (note – I’m not a teacher, I just did loads of research on the internet and I’m pretty good with kids anyway!)
It was an amazing, life-changing experience that put my life into perspective. In my 6 months in Zambia, I’d taught many children how to read and write from scratch. It was the most fulfilling thing I’d ever done. When I returned to my job in the corporate world of London, surrounded by big buildings and computers and wealthy people in suits, I felt a deep need to get back out to Africa and continue what I’d started.
I soon developed my vision for Shine – spreading the gift of literacy on a wider scale, so that children are given a foundation and a hope to get a proper education, and ultimately to open the door to a world of opportunities they’d never otherwise have.
People often ask me why I decided to start a charity in Zambia, given that I’m of Asian origin and have no family connections to Zambia. I actually went to Zambia for the first time as a backpacker in 2001 to see a solar eclipse and to go on safari. During that trip I was deeply moved by the poverty that people were living in. I’d made a good Zambian friend during that holiday, and used that connection to facilitate my trip back to Zambia as a volunteer in 2005.
Where do we get our funding?
Most of our funding comes from individuals in the UK and US, who donate regularly and raise money through fundraising events. We’ve raised some money through grants from trusts, and I’ve also personally invested a lot of my own money. Our school running costs are mostly covered by monthly donations, and partly by local initiatives at the school (selling vegetables we grow and renting out our building to churches on Sundays). We need more donors to help us grow the school, so please get in touch if you’re interested in becoming a monthly donor or fundraising for us through an event!