“Compassionate people can relieve a lot of suffering— not only in my country, but in developing countries all around the world— if they are willing to give of themselves,” says Dr. M.R. Rajagopal, MD, a palliative care physician based in Kerala, India. Founder and chairman of Pallium India, a palliative care non-governmental organization, Dr. Rajagopal is often referred to as “the father of palliative care in India.” In 2018, he received the prestigious national Padma Shri Award from the government of India for his work in helping cancer patients with pain and end-of-life care. He was also nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize.
“It was such a great honor to have him speak at the PMI regional conference hosted by PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter in April 2019,” says S.R. Jayakishore, vice president of education at PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter.
“In his keynote address, he requested us to support the education of students who have lost a parent or have a disabled parent for whom they provide palliative care.” Additionally, there are also those students who are patients themselves and have lost their opportunity for the usual paths to formal education.
Dr. Rajagopal’s call for help was a challenge that PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter volunteers were eager and happy to accept. With guidance from PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF), a program called PMIK-UDAAN was formed to provide continuous support to more than 200 families supported by Pallium India. The effort aligns perfectly with PMI’s 50th year anniversary and its stated goal – to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals through Global Project Management Celebration of Service. “Critical to the success of this initiative is to inspire and motivate project managers to put their skills to use for the greater social good around the world,” according to information provided by PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter.
Explaining the dilemma faced by children with a family member in need of palliative care, Dr. Rajagopal says, “The kids will drop out of school for various reasons. Some of these families are impoverished, and the parents may not be able to function. The children may feel they need to leave school to help support their family, or they may not be able to afford the basics required for going to school.”
Jayakishore says, “One of the ways we help students go back to school is by providing them with an educational kit containing all the things they need to return to school– books, supplies, whatever the school requires. In our first program we supported 180 students—all funded by our chapter members.”
However the support goes well beyond providing tangible supplies. “The PMI volunteers have been wonderful,” says a grateful Dr. Rajagopal. “They give of their free time to provide support beyond what any school could offer. They teach the students new skills drawn from project management. In some cases the volunteers use their days off to go to the students’ homes and provide direct educational help. But even more important is the fact that they show the students that someone cares. Someone is there for them. Someone gives them the affection and attention they need.”
Jayakishore adds, “We have worked with students and analyzed their individual situations. Many of the students have been assigned mentors – retired teachers – who work with them according to their requirements and needs. We have also presented three programs to public schools on using project management as a life tool. To do this we use resource material that we get from PMIEF.”
Specifically, they have found “Managing Life’s Projects,” “Project Management Skills for Life®,” and “Project Management Toolkit for Youth®-Curriculum for 10 to 14-Year-Olds” most helpful. “We teach the student how to break tasks that seem at first to be overwhelming into simple and manageable tasks, the importance of verbal and non-verbal communication, how to manage time and understand the importance of milestones and estimations, the prioritization of skills, especially when there are competing interests, and so much more,” says Jayakishore.
The convergence of Pallium India, PMI volunteers, and PMIEF has become a mutually satisfying partnership bringing much needed support to youths at risk of losing their opportunity for education. This year, 237 children have received education support from Pallium India. “We would like to expand our model. Right now it is but a handful of youth compared to the number in need of support; but with help from PMI volunteers we can begin to scale up,” says Dr. Rajagopol. Jayakishore says a “memorandum of understanding” already in place assures a continuing partnership between PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter and Pallium India. In addition to the education support for families, the chapter will also support their effort to market products made by palliative care patients, allowing them earn a better income.
To give an example of the importance of the work at hand, Jayakishore mentions one student, Clintu, who himself is a patient. “Clintu is a higher secondary student who became paralyzed from the chest down when a freak accident injured his spine during a dance practice at the beach. When his formal education came to a standstill, Pallium India requested that PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter give him special attention. Clintu is very interested in computers, but he was unable to operate the keyboard as his physical condition restricted the free use of his fingers. But thanks to his willpower, support by chapter volunteers every weekend, and continuous practice over two months, he has gained enough typing speed to be able to work on the computer. At present he is learning photo editing. Once he reaches a certain level of proficiency, he will become eligible to be employed by a government department.”
Such life-altering help is being given to many students who are wheelchair bound. “Many of these students can function as tech support employees,” comments Dr. Rajagopal. “We try to help them be productive. Even if they do not earn a lot, they can still live with self respect and a sense of purpose. And that is more important than money.” A sparkle of hope now lights up many lives, thanks to a noble gesture of cooperation between PMI Trivandrum, Kerala Chapter and Pallium India.