My article in Aksh Newsletter

I had written this article for Aksh , an NGO that funds higher education of kids who need financial assistance while the volunteers also provide career counselling to the kids. Spearheaded by a good friend , Varun Jindal , I had volunteered to mentor a 12th class student Anuradha studying in Patiala . This article captured the essence of my experience.

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It was the summer of 2008, when as a member of Community Service Council of HCL Technologies, I visited Shree Krishna Inter College in Ghari-Chaukhandi (village on the periphery of Noida). I had volunteered to teach Chemistry and English (two of my most favorite subjects) to students of Class 10th and 12th. We were a team of around 15-20 volunteers. In the year to follow, we witnessed a completely different life and a different set of people. Our lives were in a way transformed. The experience as I captured on my blog went like this,

For the first time in my life, I felt I could see dreams and hopes in someone’s eyes and they belonged to those little kids. For the first time I came to know, what’s the value of education? The Art of Living instructor who accompanied us asked them a simple question – “Bachchon, zindagi mein safalta ke liye kya chahiye” and shot came the reply -“padai”…“mehnat” followed another enthusiastic voice. My jaw dropped. I never expected such earnest answers. For a while, in my mind, I pictured my school, where a bunch of callous students bunked classes, others thought only of FIITJEE and thirds were a neutral lot. And there these are, who what it means to get educated. When they looked with awe towards us, I saw in those eyes, the belief that there exists a modern India and their longing to be a part of it. When their smile reached their innocent eyes, and they asked “didi, aap humein padaoge na?” I could feel the tears somewhere in the back of my eyes. I saw a facet of life that stopped time for me, it seemed so difficult to imagine my office, boss, my tasks, my daily woes, my friends, hangouts and shopping sprees while standing there. The gratitude those eyes carried for our presence there, was enough to make one throw aside all the worldly pleasures and take a stride in this new world. Transfixed, I take this stride, in this unknown world.

Why I am recollecting that experience is, because hadn’t I been through this transformational journey, I’d have never understood how small our effort might be, it makes a huge difference to someone’s life. And because there I met Achal, thought of whom made me volunteer to mentor Anuradha.

He was in class 10th and aspired for IIT. A boy coming from a village which even didn’t have electricity (Yes! the villagers used to “buy” electricity from somebody running the generator service, as the kids told me). I was awe-inspired to see the kid’s clarity of goals, while he was just in class 10th. Normally, students will wake up from their slumber in class 12th. On the contrary, he was well aware of his limited resources but his courage was undeterred. I don’t know how and why out of a group of 15-20 volunteers, he chose me as his mentor but after the classes, he ‘d discuss with me, how he wanted an 80+ percentage but was getting less than 70 and wanted to improve. He wanted me to tell him what study pattern and schedule to follow, what all is required as preparation to appear for IIT entrance examination. No wonder, the kid used to bewilder me. After the program came to an end an year later, as the fate would have it, he would call me up occasionally and kept in touch through phone.

Then, I changed my job and went abroad for my new assignment for a year. All this happened so fast and I became so self absorbed that I forgot completely about Achal. I realized quite late that he didn’t have any means to contact me. I called back on the number he used to call me up from, but I could not connect across. I lost touch with him.

And now, all I can do is wonder. Could he achieve his goal? He surely deserved to, but given his resources, was he able to get the right kind of guidance and motivation. If he hasn’t made it through, I believe it’s completely my fault. I knew he had the potential, courage and given his situation, his urge was exceptional. And if I had persisted, may be, by my mere presence, I could have given him that confidence and support which he was looking for. I wish he has achieved what he truly deserves. But the guilt of not being there for him haunts me.

When Varun told me about the mentorship program under AKSH, I knew I had to volunteer. For one thing was very clear to me through my experience with Achal, all he was looking for from me was moral support, not any financial support, not any help for any kind of resources – just moral support, but it mattered to him a lot.

Anuradha is an earnest girl, who should leave her tensions of her studies to her parents and should be enjoying her childhood. But at this tender age, not only does she have to think about what studies to opt for, but also how to fund them, how to get all the logistics of books and transportation in place, about her household work and frail grandma, and how to continue her education in adverse conditions.

AKSH is definitely taking care of her financial worries. All I can do is talk to her. Tell her that she is a strong girl. I want to see her become a teacher, and share her apprehensions, joy, worries all along the way. Because that’s the least I can do.

I have failed badly at times. I would fail to call her even once in 2 weeks and then, I ‘d realize how we have stuffed our lives with useless stuff so much that we can’t even make such a small commitment. How we become so selfish sometimes!!

But then, no excuse should cost Achal’s or Anuradha’s dreams. Thanks to AKSH, for collecting all the little drops and touching the lives of those who need it the most.

Fond old memories

I was browsing through my old mails when I found in my mailbox these two pics taken in the initial days of CSR(Corporate Social Responsibility) programme during which we volunteered to teach students at Shree Krishna Inter College in Ghari-Chaukhandi village near Noida. The memories of those days are very close to my heart.So, these pics brought rushing back all the good feelings I experienced during those days while I interacted with the students there,shared their dreams and apprehensions and saw life from their eyes.

This is an excerpt from  post I had published in the same week on my previous blog about the school

May 18,2008

Dreams in those eyes

This school we visited is known as “Shri Krishna Inter College” its upto 12th and the girls’-boy’s ratio is 80  to 20.But these all details are worthless,there is only one thing I remember about the visit-dreams in those eyes.

For the first time in my life,I felt I could see dreams and hopes in someone’s eyes and they belonged to those little kids.For the first time I came to know,what’s the value of education.The Art of Living instructor who accompanied us asked them a simple question – “Bachchon, Zindagi mein safalta ke liye kya chahiye” and shot came the reply -“padaiiiii”… “mehnat”followed another enthusiastic voice.My jaw dropped.I had never expected such earnest answers.For a while, in my mind, I pictured my school , where  a bunch of callous students bunked classes, others thought only of FIITJEE and thirds were a neutral lot.And there these are,who know what it takes to get educated and what it means to get educated.When they looked with awe towards us,I saw in those eyes,the belief that there exists a modern India and their longing to be a part of it.When there smile reached their innocent eyes,and they asked “didi, aap humein padaoge na?”,I could feel the tears somewhere in the back of my eyes.I saw a facet of life that stopped time for me,it seemed so difficult to imagine my office,boss,my tasks,my daily woes,my friends,hangouts and shopping sprees while standing there.The gratitude those eyes carried for our presence there,was enough to make one throw aside all the worldly pleasures and take a stride in this new world.Transfixed,I take this stride, in this unknown world.