Lending a Broken Hand

A teacher volunteers to help children from slums and learns so much from them along the way.

Vemala Valas had barely been in Bangalore two hours when she fell getting off a motorcycle and fractured her left hand.

She had volunteered with the Singapore International Foundation to teach disadvantaged children from slum areas.

But having to go to hospital, without family or friends in the Indian city, and feeling miserable that her six-month adventure was beginning this way, the 30-year-old thought of calling it quits and returning to Singapore.

She’s glad she didn’t.

“I’ve always wanted to do something like this, from a very young age,” she says, but never acted on that dream until the desire to get away from the routine of her job and the bad memories of a broken marriage pushed her to look for opportunities overseas.

“I’m not usually that daring.”


In many ways, volunteering at the Parikrma Learning Centre was a homecoming for Vemala .

Having come from a difficult background herself, she understood many of the children at the school: their struggles with abusive or absent fathers, mothers who had to work several jobs to make ends meet or who were suicidal, “homes” that were anything but conducive.

So unstable is home life for many of these children that the school allocates time each day for homework and feeds the children breakfast, lunch and an energy drink just before they finish at 4.30pm, knowing that for many, that would be all the nutrition, time and educational encouragement they would get.

She knew what it was like to be poor in a booming metropolis; the abuse and violence many of them regularly faced resonated with her own history.

But the children were the happiest she had encountered in more than seven years of teaching.

“They are so happy even though they are from sad backgrounds,” she says.

Vemala says she’s also happy, knowing she can and has made a real difference in someone’s life, but also gaining so much in the process.

“I thought I had come here to just give a lesson … but I have learnt a lot more and I’ve received a lot more from the kids. They make my day any day.”

About Singapore International Foundation

Set up in 1991, the Singapore International Foundation is a non-profit that brings people together from different countries, to connect and collaborate for positive change. It does this through international volunteerism, arts for social change, social entrepreneurship and digital storytelling.



Brandon Krause


Josh Lye