Monday, June 22, 2015

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. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Shubham Ghorpade: Case Study

In Warud in Amravati district, Maharashtra, Vigyan Mitras (VM) conducted science clubs in schools. After the conclusion of each session, VMs were expected to visit children’s homes to discuss their progress with their parents and raise awareness about the program.  

Besides science clubs in schools, every Sunday, VMs also conducted workshops at the Warud block office for children. One child who attended these workshops was Shubham Ghorpade who was a Std. 7 student. Every Sunday, Shubham, along with 5-7 friends, would cycle 5 km from their homes in Karli village to attend the science workshops. The Karli children’s eagerness and their families’ concern about the long, tedious commute prompted the Warud VMs to organize workshops every Saturday in Karli itself.  Of all the children in Karlin, Shubham was the one who was really thrilled by this development because it meant resting his feet—a botched surgery had left him limp in one leg. 

Snehal Suphale, the Warud VM, decided to visit Shubham’s home to speak to his family. On seeing her, Shubham ran home immediately and emerged with a box. He had collected a rat’s skeleton which he took out to show her. She had many questions which Shubham answered articulately.
Every day, on his way to school, he and the other children would see a rat carcass by the side of the road. One day, they noticed that the flesh had decomposed only to leave behind the rat skeleton.
Shubham took the initiative to collect the entire skeleton to take home. He took pictures of the skeleton on a relative’s mobile phone. Thereafter, he tried to clean the bones using Detol soap and hot water but ended up damaging a few bones instead.

To salvage the remnants, he separated each and every bone and decided to reconstruct the skeleton by referring to the pictures he had taken on the mobile. The smaller bones were fragile and Shubham handled the fragments with extreme care. He demonstrated the entire reconstruction process to Snehal.

Impressed by his initiative, she asked him why he had gone to such great lengths to preserve the skeleton. Shubham replied that he had seen a human skeleton during the Nurture the Talent camps at the C.V. Raman Science Center in Nagpur and wanted to keep a similar exhibit at the Warud center. He donated the rat’s skeleton to Snehal to exhibit alongside the other models at the office. Snehal was left awestruck by the child’s foresight.

After this incident, Snehal realized that children today are thinking differently and are not afraid or offended by anything. Their scientific curiosity helps them perceive the world and question everything around them. Shubham also had a few questions: Did rat’s bones also have names like human bones? How many bones did rats’ have? Snehal did not know the answers to these questions but said she would read up and let him know. Shubham’s courage, determination and thought deserved commendation.  We should strive to help them to realize their fullest potential. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sushmita Biswas - A PACE Training Center Success Story!

Sushmita Sushil Biswas a 19 year old girl belongs to a small village in the southern part of Maharashtra, Gadchiroli district. Sushmita lives with her family; her father is a farmer, mother a housewife and a brother who studies in school.  She passed Grade 10th and 12th with good marks and wanted to study further. But staying in Gadchiroli, gave her no scope and opportunities of further studies. As economically her father could not afford to support the cost for her further studies.

One day a mobilizer from District Skill Development Organization met her father and informed him about Pratham’s Hospitality training program and how it was benefitting many young adults like Sushmita. After learning about the program Sushmita’s father went home and told Sushmita. 

She was very happy and excited to know about the program and so Sushmita and her parents decided to send her to PACE Hospitality Training in Satara.

                       When she first arrived at PACE Hospitality Training Centre, Satara. She was very happy; she made new friends and, decided to train in Food and Beverage Service Specialisation. Sushmita learned Computer and English. During her training Sushmita actively participated in all activities, competition and assignments. She passed her final exam with excellent marks; her teachers at the training centre were very much impressed by her hard work and calibre.

Her hard work paid off as she got selected by Hotel Leonia Holistic, a five star hotel in Hyderabad and is currently earning an income of Rs 9000/-per month. Due to her hard work, she recently nominated and awarded Best Employee of the month (September 2014). When we asked her what is her future plan. She said “ to open her own restaurant in future at her native place”. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

My Time At Pratham

      By Shikhir Goel, Volunteer, PMG Team

My name is Shikhir, and I started working at Pratham in July 2013. Now, precisely 1 year down the line I am leaving the organization to pursue my MBA. Looking back, it has been one of the most interesting periods of my life. The friendships I have forged and things I learned in this short space of time have made the experience unlike any other in my previous career. 

Before joining Pratham I had worked in finance for 8 years. I was looking for a new challenge, and the prospect of working at Pratham was exciting because it was an opportunity to apply my skills toward helping people in a way that would have a clear and noticeable impact. I came for my interview prepared with ideas to improve coverage of the Urban Program because I had noticed in my research that it was significantly smaller than their Rural Program. Of course it did not take long for me to realize that I had taken on a far greater challenge than originally anticipated! As the months progressed, I began to grasp the complexity of the task I had taken on as I was regularly hit with data issues, lack of uniformity in program structures across states, and a general lack of knowledge about the Urban Program as a whole. 

As a result however I learned a great deal about perseverance, patience, managing relationships, and generating meaningful analysis from a limited amount of data. The thing I will remember and miss the most from my time here is the people trying to take this wonderful organization forward. Everyday they seek to overcome new challenges, spending days on end conducting trainings in remote villages, all with an infectious enthusiasm that is truly inspiring. It is this innate drive that everybody I have worked with at Pratham possesses that kept me motivated and interested throughout my time here. This is truly a unique group of people throughout the organization, and I wish them all the very best for the future.

Friday, September 6, 2013

One Morning in a School in Assam

                                                             By Dr.Rukmini Banerji

Some years ago, early one morning I went to a school in Kamrup district in Assam. The school was set in an open space off the narrow village road, just beyond the naamghor (village temple). School had not yet started but lots of children were already there. A Pratham volunteer was busy with children. Like many other schools in upper Assam, it was one big hall. There were a lot of children already busy with reading and writing activities. Girls with neatly tied ribbons in their hair and boys freshly bathed and ready for school. Mothers had come to drop children off and were chatting in the courtyard outside. From the number of children who were already there, it seemed like almost all the children of the school had already arrived. 

 The volunteer was a young girl, shy with adults but very good with children. Her name was Hiramoni. She moved amongst the group – gently helping some and encouraging others. Children were doing writing exercises on the floor. First, they made a list of words on a given topic and then each wrote sentences. Together the whole thing became like a small essay. The children quite enjoyed writing. From the speed and the enthusiasm with which they wrote you could tell this was an activity that was a favourite. Soon the entire floor became full and overcrowded with words and sentences. 

A gentleman came to the door of the hall and gestured to one of the children. I asked him what he thought of the early morning activity. He smiled and his son smiled as well. They both enjoyed this extra hour before school. I got talking to the gentleman. It turned out that he was a government school teacher. He lived in this village and so his son went to this school but he taught in a school in the neighbouring village. He liked coming here with his son before he went to his school.

More people joined our conversation. We had moved to the verandah outside the hall. The Pratham volunteer was now sitting on the floor and children were crowding around her. I think they had begun to play a new word game. “She is very good” I said to the Headmaster. He did not look surprised. In a matter of fact way he said, “We chose a very good volunteer for our school. One of the best. She is Hira”. Indeed, in her quiet way she sparkled as a diamond as she worked. As a young girl she had been a student of this school and in fact her mother was a member of the school committee. 

I looked around at the well painted hall and complimented the people standing there. One of the lady teachers said to me. “It has to be good. We made it”. This teacher too had been a student in this school many years ago when she was a girl. And over time had worked hard to come back to this school to teach. She showed me a room that had recently been built for the midday meal – it was already looking dilapidated. 

The room had been built by the department. “We wanted a nice good room for our children” said the teacher. “And so we all got together and put in some of our money and then the school’s money and built it. All the labour was from the village too”. As she spoke it seemed that this was the most natural thing to do. Of course her child studied in this school as well.

The bell rang. It was time for actual school to start. I still remember the day – it was a day in early September. Teachers Day. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

“I leave and heave a sigh and say goodbye”….

                                         By Ciara McDermott, Suas Volunteer

Nine weeks have flown past in a flurry of colours, sights and sounds and we are fast approaching the final week of placement with Pratham Delhi. With interruptions to the usual timetable for Eid, Independence Day and a farewell party, it is easy to forget how much can still be achieved in only the few remaining teaching hours. Nonetheless, the end is nigh and thoughts of home comforts have long since crept in. We look forward to comfortably cool Irish weather, comparatively bland food and reliable infrastructures. Bathtubs, clean feet, and the familiarity of our family and friends are coveted at this late stage.

There will be certain poignancy to our joyful return home. We will be saying goodbye to the smiling faces, playful voices and enthusiastic spirits that greet us with shouts of” Ma’am ji!” and “Sir ji!” every morning and afternoon. It is difficult to come to terms with the fact that when we leave the children will continue to be taught through rote learning, they may learn incorrect turns of phrase; spellings and phonics and perhaps much of the progress they have made in the past ten weeks will be forgotten. There is a sense of regret that we could have done more, and some frustration with the unchanged systems we are leaving behind.

Looking back to our first day in the learning centres, when we struggled to remember the names of the kids, let alone communicate with them, we have come a long way. In stark contrast to the somewhat negative feelings we are struggling with, we feel immense pride that “our kids” can understand almost all of what we ask of them. When a visitor arrived at our centre last week the students could introduce themselves, their families and their interests with ease and confidence.

There is an enormous sense of achievement when a student can correct the grammatical errors of his or her peers and excitement when the students ask us about our interests and our home places. Tests have been conducted to record quantitative evidence of the improvement made throughout the programme but they merely scratch the surface. It is the warmth and confidence of the children that has increased every week that has been overwhelming. Although their English levels are far from perfect, they can adequately be comprehended by a native English speaker. The other teachers at the centre have also been exposed to a new way of learning.

Returning home and readjusting to the lifestyle there will pose its own challenges. As we reintegrate into society in the west however, we will not forget the culture we have been exposed to and the experiences we have had. We will miss the hospitality of strangers, fresh fruit on every corner, our chai Walla, and generally, the mayhem and intensity of what has been our home. The summer has been full of ups and downs, likes and dislikes, successes and failures but I for one feel that we have learned far more than we could ever have hoped to teach.