Guru Purnima, which is being observed today, brings back memories of school, college, university and of course, parents and mentors! While all of them have played a crucial part in what we are and what we become, here are some young guns, trying their hand at shaping the futures of a thousand others, who are less privileged owing to resources, circumstances or simply geographical conditions. They narrate their stories of teaching in rural India, and at schools that lack infrastructure and much more.
SWATI GUPTA, 21, PATAUDI
I am a fellow of the Gandhi Fellowship, Kaivalya Education Foundation, where we work with the stakeholders of government schools for the development of school systems. I am working in Pataudi, a block of Gurugram, Haryana, where I teach students from Std III to V in five schools, imparting them Hindi and Mathematics skills and other areas such as library, assembly revamping, activation of School Management Committee and community support for school development.
While I was doing my graduation in TISS Guwahati, Assam, I wanted to work in the education domain. I studied in a government school and have first-hand experience of how they operate. We faced a lack of exposure and proper counselling. So, after my Bachelors, I decided to give the next two years of my life to kids studying in government schools hoping to fill the gap that exists in our education system. Initially, my parents were a little sceptical about the idea of me going to a different state and working in a rural setup but were soon convinced of my dedication.
‘Main aur Haryana ek dusre ko pasand karne ki kaushish mein jude hue hain!’ (Haryana and I are trying our best to like each other). Being a woman working in Haryana is a bit difficult. Every day, I face a new challenge but what keeps me going are the kids and the people that the fellowship has introduced me to. I can also see the growth in me as a person in the past one year because of this journey. The one incident, among many others, that has touched me the most, is with this kid, Praveen. In my first class in a boy’s school, I was still unable to manage the kids who were very passive. In a week, I got frustrated and in the heat of the moment, accidentally raised my hand on Praveen. I can never forget the look on his face. I felt guilty and left the class but promised myself to never hit a child again. I don’t want to leave the marks of violence on my children. I apologised to Praveen the next day. He was smiling like nothing had happened. For him, maybe it was the first time a teacher was apologising to him. He is one of my brightest students today and his smile motivates me to go to the school every week.
KRISHNA THIRUVENGADAM, 25, LOBHI
Having done my graduation in mechanical engineering from SRM University, I was an SBI Youth for India Fellow (2015-16) with BAIF and Maharashtra Institute of Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (MITTRA) as the partner NGOs. My project location was a remote tribal village called Lobhi (Tumsar Taluka, Bhandara District, Maharashtra) predominantly inhabited by the Gond tribes. My project, dHive — Rural Innovation Studio is to enable rural kids and youth to develop appropriate technologies using locally available resources, a one-of-its-kind model in the country, by inculcating design thinking and problem solving abilities.
Apart from working currently as a design educator at ThinkDiff S’kool, a STEM-based Learning Centre in Chennai, I am outreaching the Rural Innovation Model as an open source process towards holistic education and self-sustaining participatory technology development. The project has now been institutionalised by BAIF and MITTRA.
A makerspace has been set up in the village to provide a platform for the youngsters to build and develop their innovations and a micro-enterprise model is being setup wherein the products developed by the youngsters are being produced locally by women self-help groups that not only provide an alternative livelihood to dropouts but also could help reduce adult migration in the future.
I wanted to be an agent of change in rural India, a dream since childhood. During a college internship, I was amazed at how rural communities, especially children from remote locations of the country, could come up with ideas on solving issues affecting them, owing to their limited monetary resources and a wider insight of their local resources.
During the initial days of my fellowship, I observed that many modern interventions were not adopted properly by the communities as these did not adhere to the socio-cultural context of the region. These observations made me question my understanding of ‘development’ and only then I began to wonder, ‘How do we make sustainable development applicable to an emerging economy like India where its unique and diverse social-cultural milieu presented both opportunities and challenges?’ I thus started to work on motivating the tribal community to become more self-reliant in solving their local problems using technological interventions, bridging modern development and traditional practices.
I started with children and youth as they were more open to new ideas.
Seeing the successful products designed and built entirely by the children, the community came forward to lend their minds and hands too. School dropouts and unemployed youth, who were earlier whiling away their time, became a part of the team. The project has evolved them into serial innovators, solving the community’s most pressing problems that existed for generations. We developed a Hybrid Smokeless Chulha, a Firewood Carrier (enables women to carry firewood with much ease reducing neck and spinal strain), and a Pedal Powered Washing Machine.
Little did I know that this 13-month journey in a remote tribal village would change my life forever. The tough challenges that I faced helped me explore and expand my limits. The major challenge was the local language along with starvation, harsh climate, fatal infections and health conditions. But I overcame them with the support of the community I worked with. I felt like I got a second family and home.
ANVI MEHTA, 26, KHALKANDIYA
I am an SBI Youth For India fellow, a one-year fellowship for rural development, and posted in Champawat district of Uttarakhand, working with a partner NGO —BAIF Research and Development Foundation. As a part of the fellowship, I am setting up a library-cum-community centre called Gramin Swadhyay Kendra in Khalkandiya village. The library hopes to inculcate a culture of reading among kids. The mountain population has very low exposure to urbanisation and development, their only source of information is their academics and internet (for a few). By introducing books, I hope they can get more exposure and prepare well for their future.
I was inclined towards working in education because I observed a lack of interest in studying among the kids and teaching among teachers. There was an issue in overall development of the children due to lack of resources. Most of the kids had never painted or sketched. Higher grade students could not spell simple words like ‘baby’. These were a few disappointments that led me to think of ways to give some exposure and a library was the best I could think of. We introduced board games to children and they have shown progress in focusing, recollection and quick learning as we play games like word building, scrabble, chess and puzzles. It is very difficult to get kids, teens or graduates to read English books because they are scared of the language. Currently, I am working on this bit.
One day, we were doing painting lessons in the library. The elders and teachers in the school had told me that these kids did not know how to paint and did not have the creativity or aptitude to draw and colour.
Nonetheless, we gave the kids some colours and drawing papers. We encouraged them, told them to draw their surroundings and the kids came up with amazing drawings of their homes, the mountains, temples, etc. Yes, they did need some guidance on the technicalities. But, they did have the creativity, their elders thought, they don’t. Kids in any corner of the world have the potential. They just need a way to tap it and make the most out of it.
MANASA RAMKRISHNAN, 27, CHENNAI
I worked at Teach For India for two years from 2013 to 2015 in Chennai and taught in a low-income corporation school. It was a wonderful stint. I learnt a lot and met some amazing people. I think I learnt more than the children I taught at the Chennai Primary Government School. Children are very smart and quick learners. They just need to be taught any topic in a method that is easy for them to understand. Every child in the classroom is unique, and as a teacher, it was my responsibility to understand and appreciate this uniqueness. I used various techniques to teach — storytelling, special guests, audio visual, field trips, movies, puppet shows and dance, to name a few. Every day is a new learning experience for the child and the teacher.