SSE Uplifting the Sai Community with Technology: Dallas, TX
The year 2020 was the year human interaction moved from the physical to the digital realm. Real faces of teachers were replaced by digital faces on computer screens; family visits became online family meetings; and office operations moved from physical locations to virtual space. Limited social interactions and isolation from friends and family posed many emotional struggles such as depression. Digital fatigue struck the younger generation while older generations encountered multiple roadblocks in learning and adapting to technology.
A group of high school Sai Spiritual Education (SSE) students of the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Dallas identified target groups that needed help with tech support – (i) the elderly who needed help navigating a new unfamiliar tech world in order to stay connected with the family, and (ii) younger children who missed out on social interactions. The SSE students felt that the tech skills they could offer matched perfectly the need of the hour. Thus, in August 2020, they split into groups to plan and kickstart three different pilot projects with the help of their SSE teachers: the Buddy Program, the Tutoring Program, and the Tech Team
The Buddy program, with a group of twenty-one children, was created to fill the social and emotional void students experienced during the pandemic. Older students interacted with their younger buddies in a fun and casual way on diverse topics such as STAAR testing, cartoon shows, soccer game, arts & crafts, hobbies, games, help in deciding college majors and tips for building self-confidence. Online tutoring was initiated with the intention of offering help with Math, English, Science and Social studies for elementary children. It was observed that the program not only helped the students in understanding the subject but helped foster a close bond between the tutors and tutees.
The Tech team provided technical support to senior Sai Center members by helping them access Zoom calls, WhatsApp and other online activities. The team grew in size from six to over fifteen members currently. It has also widened its scope of activities to include designing invitations for various Center programs, putting together a yearly e-book and helping SSE teachers put together video content for their classes.
These projects have at least 50 active volunteers altogether and have catered to the needs more than 250 members of the Sri Sathya Sai Center of Dallas.
One of the volunteers on the Buddy Program remarked, “One thing I really enjoyed in my experience with the Buddy program is that I gained as much from it. Playing games like chess with my buddy taught me so much about patience, forbearance, concentration, discipline, and focus. More importantly, however, I learned great communication skills through talking with my buddy on a variety of topics from favorite foods to board games. I gained insights on how to work with younger people, a skill I can take with me into my school and work life.”
One of the SSE students shared his thoughts and experience about being in the Tutoring Program. He said: “Within the first hour of the first class, we built a nice bond like one would with a brother. He would attend the class every week, and while he was learning, we also built this strong bond talking about the games he played, the activities he was engaged in and enjoyed at school. It was a great learning experience for me.”