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With just Rs 5,000, Kamalakannan started his NGO, Vizhuthugal in the year 2008. Today, he stands tall as a social entrepreneur supporting five tuition centers in the district of Erode, Tamil Nadu.

Born in a weaver’s family, Kamalakannan was a first-generation graduate. He followed the principles of Swami Vivekananda and was an avid reader of his books. After completing his Bachelors’ Degree in Computer Science in Coimbatore, he started a Ramakrishna ashram near his home, where he taught children who lived in the nearby slum.

After a few months of starting the ashram, he joined Deccan Services, a BPO in Chennai. Kamalakannan served as a volunteer at the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple and every Thursday he distributed food to those who lived in the vicinity. “I wanted to do something tangible for these people, but did not know how. I wanted to render social work in a professional manner,” said Kamalakannan.

Quitting a secure job and engaging in social work full-time was not easy. Kamalakannan enquired in various educational institutions in Chennai about the social work courses that they offered. “I learnt that a master’s degree in social work was a two-year course and I could not afford to pay the high fees. When I read about CSIM in a Tamil daily, I called their office and was asked to attend the interview. At the interview, I expressed my inability to pay the fees and requested for support. Latha Suresh, the Director, was compassionate and enrolled me in the course. This was a turning point in my life and I have never looked back since,” he said.

Kamalakannan joined for the Post-Graduate Diploma in Social Initiative and Management. “I was offered a scholarship of Rs 2,000 per month. I utilized this money to meet my travel, food, and accommodation costs,” he said.

Kamalakannan was selected for the ‘Inaintha Naam 99’ fellowship scheme that was offered by Siragugal, an NGO in Chennai. He was one of the 99 selected from 1,600 applicants. Of the 99, 66 were students who were interested to launch their own NGO, and and 33 were company representatives.

“I was offered a fellowship of Rs 5,000 per month for two years to start an NGO. The formal event was organized by Siragugal in Pollachi to distribute the fellowship amount, for which APJ Abdul Kalam was the chief guest. I launched the Vizhuthugal Social Trust in Punjai Puliyampatti in June 2008 along with my friends Elango and Parthasarathy,” added Kamalakannan.

The trust offers tuition services to underprivileged children. Vizhuthugal started working in one village and later expanded to five villages. The fellowship fund lasted for six months and Kamalakannan did not know how to continue supporting the NGO’s activities after that period. “We found it difficult to pay the salary for our tuition teachers. I contacted Latha Suresh who said that she would support us for three months and advised me to identify a donor in the interim. When P N Subramanian learnt about our problem, he requested his friend Murugan to contribute to our trust,” said Kamalakannan.

Murugan donated a computer and offered a regular sponsorship of Rs 5,000 a month. Today, there are 245 children studying from standard 6th to 12th who are provided tuition through five tuition centers coordinated by Vizhuthugal.

In a span of four years, Kamalakannan has donned many hats: a corporate employee, a volunteer at Sai Baba Temple, a CSIM student and a NGO head. When asked which of these roles he liked best, he replied: “I liked only two of them—being a CSIM student and my present role as NGO Director.”

Additionally, Kamalakannan coordinated eye camps with the help of Aravind Eye Hospital and planted tree saplings near the tuition centers. The trust also extended support to children who needed medical assistance.

Kamalakannan visits the tuition centre regularly and also spends time teaching the children. Besides regular lessons, children are taught spoken English, computer skills, and yoga. During the summer vacation, the children attend dance lessons which are conducted by trained teachers.

“Villagers from Madampalayam and Maradapalayam villages are requesting us to set up tuition centers in their villages as well. Individual donations from friends and well wishers enable us to meet the program expenses. If we have more support, we will be able to expand our reach to these villages as well,” said Kamalakannan. “The respect I gained through my social work activities has been encouraging. My family, who were once apprehensive when I shifted to social work, is now proud of me,” concluded Kamalakannan with a glint in his eye.

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