Right after her 12thexams, Sheetal joined Teach India. Maybe she envisaged that it would help her and truly it did. She felt the entire program was very informative and motivating. She is now working with Sherman Hospitality & Services and earning Rs. 11,000 plus incentives. She is not only bearing her own expenses but also that of her family. They couldn’t be more proud of her. Drawing inspiration from her, her elder brother who was looking for jobs, also joined Teach India in order to better his prospects.
Now she is making close to Rs. 7000 per month, working in Café Coffee Day and is extremely happy for herself.
Yamini, a 19 year old, just started to work with Dominos. She always wanted to be an Air Hostess and successfully cleared her exams too. However the exorbitant amount required for training deterred her. She had lost her father long time back and her mother’s income from working in a packaging company wasn’t enough to cover it. She could feel her dream slipping through her hands. Her friend then informed her about Teach India’s Spoken English course and she decided to enroll, just to brush up her English speaking skills. In the job fair that was held afterwards she was able to land a job. Now she works and saves money for training all on her own. On asking how she feels, she exclaims, “Thank you Teach India. I’m very happy! It’s a good place to work too. I’ll work with this company till I can save enough money for my training.”
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|
(Dherya – Ek Sath Ek Vishwas)
At first glance, Pul Prahaladpur, a nondescript locality of Delhi bustling with some of our country’s teeming populations may invoke casual curiosity in an outsider. Tenements and houses seem to sprout up out of every corner and navigating through its narrow back lanes seems to humble most who venture out here. But for the urban thrill-seeker, to step inside of Pul Prahladpur’s microcosm and to take in the assortment of sights, sounds & smells as hordes of people pass you by, the experience of anonymity seems almost achievable. Yet under this blanket of anonymity are those who fight personal wars for establishing their relevance in a place too used to its own shadow. One of them saunters out from the mechanic’s workshop, a white book in his hand, and waits for his friend who his reciting his morning prayers at the square. Together, they make their way to a door after dodging a puddle and crossing a few alleys where they see others of their ilk lined up. They talk in groups and go silent as they see me approach the door. I somehow comprehend the cause of their silence. Huddled whispers follow. I smile at them nervously and make my way inside the building to hear the sound of others like them, speaking English sentences out loud in unison. A board placed on the door reads ‘Dherya – Ek Sath Ek Vishwas’. At the door, I am greeted by the founder Ms. Priya Srivastava, who has been running Dherya since its inception in 2013. Meanwhile, the learners rush in, almost falling on top of each other, their eyes gleaming, barely containing their excitement. “It’s their second day today. They are all learners in the Teach India course.” says Ms. Srivastava as a young learner steals a mischievous glance at the well-dressed stranger in the room. I proceed to shake his hand and ask his name. “Kuldeep” he says proudly. Ms. Srivastava tells me Kuldeep aspires to be a police officer one day, for which English communication skills are necessary. There’s still ten minutes before the class starts and all the learners are already going through their course packets, undoing the plastic carefully so as to not spoil it. I take a seat and survey Ms. Srivastava’s quaint little office before I begin her interview.
Q. What was your motivation to start Dherya? A. I joined Teach India as a volunteer in 2010. After doing a few cycles of imparting English skills to the learners, I felt very self-actualized. During all those hours of volunteering, I believe I was quite close to realizing my life’s greatest calling – being of service to others in society. Immediately after completing my last cycle, I decided I would not let anything stop me from doing what gives me the most joy. Yes, it was a big change and the fear of failure was inevitable. But I held tight, and within months of starting Dherya, I received Teach India’s support to start English classes. And that’s how it began. Q. What services does Dherya offer to the local community? A. “Apart from Teach India’s Spoken English classes, Dherya also offers classes in Computer, Art & Craft, Abacus, Dance & many more. I realized that there was a clear need for enabling the youth of this locality to become financially independent. There are so many stereotypes that exist in this area even today. Many parents are not convinced whether sending their kids to take English classes will be a good idea or not. I have made sure that illiteracy does not restrict a child’s opportunity to succeed. I share cordial relations with many learners’ parents in this area and make sure that I convince them of the bright future that lies ahead of their children if they are allowed access to enriching education. Q. What are the some of the hurdles that you have faced in your journey so far? A. Like I said before, the biggest problem was to get the parents to send their children to the classes. Despite Pul Prahladpur being an urban locality, a lot of the residents here refuse to adapt to the ways of the changing world. Girls parents’ so far, have been the most difficult to convince. While I see where their rationale comes from, Dherya’s female success stories have proven everyone wrong. The female learners who complete their course here go on to not only contribute to their family income but to also stand proud of their hard-earned achievements. And that is something worth working for. Of course, there are other communal pressures on learners too, but over time this has got much better. Q. Finally, what is your maxim for leading a life of service? Honesty. It is the most important virtue for anyone in any field. Your thoughts and actions should be in complete synchronization. If they’re not, it is a clear indicator of dishonesty. I started Dherya because I understood that young people in India have to overcome many hindrances to gain a decent education. In their mind, they might aspire to be great scientists, engineers, artists & teachers but circumstance renders them to believe that these things are not meant for them. Hence, there is an ever-present need to not only instil this virtue of honesty in young people but to also make sure that the foundational virtue of people in the social work sector is honesty.
Enthusiasm walks in the room in the form of Mr. Ujjwal Chhaba, a pilot, volunteering with Teach India for the first time. As soon as he walks in the room, the learners’ eyes are transfixed on him, and his on them. There is almost a surreal connection between the teacher and his students. I sit quietly in the background and pretend to take notes but I’m more fascinated by the ease in which the learners are responding to him. This is only the second day so far, so today they are learning how to introduce themselves in English complete with pleasantries and grammar rules. I must say it is a morally rewarding experience to take part in the class and slowly see the students accept me as a part of their own, even to the point of letting me take part in a game about color identification. When a question is asked in an everyday classroom, most students conform to the answer they hear from me the other and all respond in unison. Now, Mr. Chhaba goes the extra mile to ensure that he doesn’t move to the next lesson until each learner can introduce themselves in immaculate English. And the result is extraordinary. Twelve learners, who were clueless about the direction of their lives till the previous day, take great strides in changing their circumstance today. The classroom erupts in sounds of introductions going back and forth across the room. The proud teacher walks to the various groups engaged in the conversation, smiling to himself, correcting errors along the way. “This is just the beginning” he says earnestly. By the end of the day, even the shiest boys and the most demure girls are extremely responsive, answering every one of their teacher’s questions with glee. Some even raise questions. The spectacle is brilliant. Later that evening, Kuldeep comes over to me and shakes my hand again. He says “You have a camera. Let us click a photo together.” All of the learners join in and coax a reluctant Ms. Srivastava and Mr. Chhaba to join in too. Now, I promise I didn’t put them up to this but when they posed they all screamed “We love Teach India”.
Mrs. Pooja Agarwal beams with pride as she sits across the table from her favourite learner Nihal Chaudhary. They reminisce about their Teach India experience and laugh about the light-hearted banter that Nihal had often initiated in class. Nihal is now a dedicated Guest Relations Associate at PVR Cineplex and owes his success to his teacher who left an indelible imprint on him, enabling him to take charge of his life by providing him with the skills he needed to succeed. He says in crisp English “I like to communicate with people in English now. I want to go and talk to new people every day. I’m very proud of myself.”
(Read about Nihal’s success story here – http://thecanvasofchange.blogspot.in/2016/07/learner-success-story-nihal-chaudhary.html)
On a quest to find completeness in her life, Mrs. Agarwal decided to enrol as a volunteer for Teach India. Little did she know, that her efforts would radically alter the course of many lives, such as Nihal’s. Of course, in the first few days of her volunteer training, she had inhibitions. She confesses “I was not sure how I would mingle with the students. This was my first time doing something like this.” However, by the first day of the class, Mrs. Agarwal was already making great strides as a teacher. Nihal fondly affirms this by remembering a pneumonic game that she introduced to the class that day. Gradually, she became extremely adept at her role and it took her relatively less time to prepare lectures for the next day. Things began to work for her in perfect synchronisation. In fact, she had reached the point where she would often conjure up impromptu assignments and activities for the class, much to the delight of the learners.
During our discussion, Mrs. Agarwal also put forth an important point about student dropouts. Despite nationwide efforts to eradicate illiteracy, there are still a large number of students who drop out of school due to ignorance or societal and economic pressures. “While most learners stayed dedicated to the course throughout, there were some who dropped out due to opposition from home, or maybe due to lack of motivation. There is an imperative need to change this.”
Fortunately, in Nihal’s case, as his parents saw his progress, they too became supportive of his education and career. We, at Teach India feel privileged to have laid the foundations for the employability and growth of students like Nihal. But there is always an eternal need for more and more educators to come forward and reshape the future of our nation’s youth. (Volunteer for Teach India now at http://ww.itimes.com/teach-india?pref=delhi)
Mrs. Agarwal is an example of a Teach India volunteer who transcends the boundaries of a conventional educator to act as a facilitator of knowledge, a constant motivator, and most importantly, a life coach for her students. She has been very vocal about the need for Nihal to pursue his education further while still balancing that with his job. And the best part is, thanks to her efforts, Nihal does both effortlessly.
She can’t wait to volunteer for another session!
Before joining Teach India classes, Nihal remembers himself as a disoriented youth, who despite having the drive, did not have the necessary skill-set to succeed in India’s burgeoning job market. In fact, the mere prospect of thinking about gainful employment gave him the shivers, for he faced a lot of resistance from home. But fate had bigger plans for him than he had ever anticipated. “As soon as he stepped inside the classroom, I could see both dedication and hope in his eyes. The dedication with which he took part in classroom activities, his eagerness to learn; they were all indicators of the bright future that lay ahead of him. He has been one of my best students.” recalls his proud teacher Ms. Pooja Agarwal.