Celebrated American journalist Hunter S. Thompson once said “Whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal – It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.” It’d have been very easy for Aakriti Verma to muffle the echoes of her aspirations by giving a million reasons of why it couldn’t be. But she chose to stick with the one reason why it could. And that’s why you’re reading her story right now. Joining the Teach India volunteer network in 2015, Aakriti decided to dive headfirst into the art of changing lives. After a successful volunteer cycle with one of our partner NGOs ‘Sahyog’, she surged ahead to impart English skills upon the personnel of the Gurgaon Traffic Police. Currently educating the wives of Army men in our special Army chapter, Aakriti shares a special fascination for life in the Armed Forces: “Ever since I was a little kid, I always wondered what it would be like to step in an army personnel’s shoes. Their green berets, their immaculate formations, their shiny arsenal & their undying devotion to serving our country, all of these things made me eager to vicariously live their experience. Although my career as a wall artist provided me great avenues for creative stimulation and remuneration, it didn’t satiate this particular desire. So, when Teach India came out with their special Army chapter, I couldn’t resist. I signed up to be a volunteer for the third time and I immediately knew how I had set out on a journey filled with moral rewards.” Q. You seemed very vocal about your experience with the Army chapter. How was your first volunteering cycle with Sahyog? A. Just like anyone venturing into an unknown field for the first time, I too had qualms. Many of my concerns had to do with the seriousness of the learners. I came in assuming that the learners would be disruptive and would lack motivation but I was taken aback when I saw them for the first time. Eager and on time every day, they made me realise that they were as invested in this experience as me. While they expected me to help them communicate in English, they showed independence when required. In that sense, my first volunteer cycle with Sahyog helped me gauge the determination of the learners and the result was delightful. I still keep in touch with most of the learners. Q. You’ve completed two volunteer cycles and are currently volunteering for the third time. What made you keep coming back to volunteer for Teach India? A. I was left with the aftertaste of the enriching classroom experience with the learners after the first cycle had ended. Due to extensively interacting with the learners on a very personal basis, my emotional intelligence rose and it became easy for me to have a genuine conversation with everyone that I met. No longer did I have to overcome my own biases and opinions whenever I was talking to someone. It all came naturally to me. I now had the power to change lives one classroom at a time. And this is perhaps, the only type of power that does not corrupt. So, I wondered “what if I could replicate this elated feeling again and again?” And so, I came back to Teach India. And I will keep on doing so for the foreseeable future. I hope to volunteer in the Tihar chapter very soon. Q. What have been your most rewarding moments with Teach India so far? A. I think I would fail to find the right words to describe something that can only be felt, but for the purpose of this interaction, I’ll make an exception (laughs). The biggest pack of rewards came in when it dawned on me that teaching had gradually become my second nature, and the Teach India community, my second family. I have many fond memories from the early training days, and often reminisce about the learners that are now financially supporting themselves. Under Teach India’s aegis, I got the privilege to work in close coordination with other altruistic people, who are just as devoted to ensure that English & employability no longer remain an elusive dream for our nation’s underprivileged. I am particularly glad to have my biases shed when I noticed that the army men whose wives I teach at the Army HQ were extremely supportive of their wives quest to gain English proficiency. To see men in uniform stand firm against the sexism plaguing our country was something I still cherish till the present day. I never knew they had hidden talents (one shy student is a national level wrestler). It gave me immense joy to see them go past their marital confines and gain an education for themselves. To sum it up, I feel that seeing the collective determination of all the learners that I have taught so far allowed me to harbor the same determination in achieving my goals. Like you said, I now swim for the goal because I don’t have time to wait for the tide!
Notes from Aakriti’s students thanking her for educating and empowering them.
Gifts like this are symbolic of her students’ love and devotion to their teacher
Aakriti with her students from the Gurgaon Traffic Police chapter
Sharing a candid moment in the classroom with a learner