A New Experience
by Tanay Kothari,volunteer
I never imagined that the lifestyles of people could be so diverse, even in modern metros like Delhi. My recent visit to rural schooling centres run by Pratham, India’s largest NGO, gave me a new perspective of the world around me.
I started working with Pratham Books in April ’14, after I wanted to use my skills to give back to the society. Pratham Books is an organization with the aim of putting a book in every child’s hands. They publish high quality story books for children at low prices to make them accessible to children in rural areas.
Their books reached far and wide through collaborative hard work, yet there were children in remote areas which could not get access to their physical library. Cut-off from the world by major modes of transportation, there was one mode of transportation which connected these areas to the rest of the world, namely, the Internet. I, along with Pratham Books, decided to use this abundant facility to provide access to children all over the world, even in remote areas, access to these books. And that was how I started my journey with Pratham Books; a journey which I never thought could have changed the way I look at life around me.
After months of meetings, hard work and night-outs, the seemingly ginormous task was finally complete. I had created a framework, and used it to digitize our first book. This framework would allow for future expansion, and further digitisation of books with incremental effort. Using this, even a ten year-old can do so, the process being as simple as drag-n-drop.
Our first book - Too Much Noise - was finally developed by Dec ’14, following which we planned a visit to the centres in rural areas to get feedback on our new product and if it could really make a difference. Go to a school. Showcase the app. Get the questionnaire filled by the children. Go to the next center. Repeat. A process that seemed so simple was just about to change my life. On 20 Jan, I packed my bag, printed the questionnaires, ready for my first visit. Taking the metro, a rickshaw and then walking for 20 mins through narrow winding streets, got me to my destination - a small rural schooling centre in East Delhi.
I stepped into the first classroom. These weren’t like normal class rooms. Children of different classes sat in groups of 5-6 on mats, each group being taught by a teacher. As soon as I walked into the classroom, I was greeted with a resounding “Good Morning Sir!” as all the children welcomed me in. Getting them all into a circle, I showed them what the app had - a multilingual story with play-along text, in-story quizzes and interesting facts about objects and people in the book. I could sense pure delight on their faces as every tap on the screen surprised them. Even simple things as swiping to turn the page left them awestruck.
All the different actions which happened on the screen created a magical aura, and the children’s happiness knew no bounds. I realized these were children who had never had access to technology. To them this was magic; and I, the magician, bringing to them this joy. This was a different kind of happiness that started to bud inside me. Not the transient kind, but one that was destined to leave me with a smile of satisfaction for time to come. For two days, we went from one centre to another, meeting children of all ages and every one of them was as excited as the rest.
At one centre, a group of little girls decided to repay me for telling them a wonderful story, and wrote a story with me as the main character - a brave warrior prince. However small an incident, this was one of the things I will never forget.
These kids learnt a lot from the app and me, but I learnt a lot more. The most important of them being appreciation for every small thing in life. Most students from well-off families hate to go to school and view it as a burden. When I asked the same question to these children from rural parts of the country whose parents could barely afford to send them to school, the response was totally unexpected. “I love going to school”. “Because you can meet your friends there?”. “Yes, but mainly because I love to learn new things”. I was surprised to hear this.
They thank god and their parents for every day that they are able to go to school, every new thing they learn, every book they are able to read, and every small gesture done towards them. This is one thing I could never have learned in school or in textbooks, and neither could anyone else. It’s time today’s generation goes and visits these places, broaden their horizons, and develop a sense of appreciation for their life.