Lighting Up Young Minds

A reading session with solar lights

A reading session with solar lights

One of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.
-Agatha Christie

Indeed, a happy childhood is something that every kid deserves. On this literacy day, we started something that was our contribution to add happiness to some childhoods. We (know more about what we do) started a campaign titled “Lighting Up Young Minds”. The objective of this campaign is to inculcate the habit of reading in rural children and make it a fun activity.

Personally, I vouch for the magical effect that reading has on growing up children. It can transform and transfigure childhoods. Unfortunately, our rural kids often do not have either access to quality reading material; or the boring academic books have made reading a drab and dull activity. We want to make reading a fun activity and inculcate the habit of reading.

So, we partnered with Pratham Books for getting some quality reading content and conducted reading sessions at more than 250 locations to start the campaign. We reached more than 17000 children in a single day.

Each reading session was followed by a painting competition and some fun activities for children. From ‘Chhota Bheem’ to ‘Indian national flag’… their imagination captured it all.

This is just a start for us. We are looking to reach more than 100,000 children on by this Children’s Day. We want to make this a regular event and get more people, partners to engage in this. Drop us a line in the comments if you want to contribute in our this goal.

Bihar: A Glorious Past and An Uncertain Future

As I walked past a small hut the chorus of ‘ek duni do.. do duni char.. caught my attention. The sound was coming from the hut on my left. I took  this route many times, but never stopped to have a second look on the hut. It was so commonplace in a village full of huts. I stopped and so did a couple of people who were with me. One of them was a visitor from Japan.

There were around 20 kids in the hut, swaying back and forth and reciting  do ka pahada (table of two). Some of the kids seemed too young to be learning tables.  The teacher was nowhere to be seen.  Yes, this hut was one of the several centres under Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS). The kids spotted us, some kids stopped their recital and took stock of us. Soon, they realized that we are some random visitors making them victim of our stupid  curiosity. Soon a young lady, barefoot, hastily covering her head with pallu walked in to the hut. She was the teacher. Suddenly, there was more enthusiasm and participation in the recital.

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

ICDS Centre in Lalpura, Vaishali

There was a sudden onrush of mixed emotions. Nostalgia, pride, frustration, helplessness, happiness and hope were all mingled together. The kids were oblivious of the odds against them. Uncertain of what lies ahead of the hut. Many of them may were there because their parents sent them to get free food there. And, many of them will dropout after this school. But some of them will surely defy many odds to achieve what their parents never dreamt of.

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

Ashokan Pillar at Kolhua, near Vaishali

It was very ironic. We were in Vaishali: birthplace of Lord Mahavir, workplace of Budhha and the capital of the glorious Licchavi clan. The hut was on our way to Ashokan piller and Abhishek Pushkarni : two reminders of our glorious past. Every person that you will meet from this area will not forget to highlight our past glory. I too, do it without fail when I meet someone who wants to know more about my home state. Often, this helps when I am not keen to discuss the embarrassing present and uncertain future.

A few meters away from that hut, one can find the world peace pagoda and several other palatial Buddhist stupa and temples. These stupas and temples are constructed by several Buddhist countries such as Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Japan etc. Every year a horde of tourist visit this place to experience and appreciate the work of Budhha and Mahavira.

I look at these temples and stupas which are meant for celebrating the teachings of our enlightened souls and several questions pop up. Would  kids there in the hut be able to enjoy and celebrate the teachings of Buddha and Mahavira? What if there were a few schools also built along with the stupas? What if there were enough schools here? What if teachers were inspired by  selfless services of Budhha and Mahavira?

Ranchi Trip

Last month, I visited  Ranchi for a couple of days almost after

the water tank on hilltop

the water tank on hilltop

23 years. I was so excited to visit that place, to see my school and go to those places which were slowly getting eroded from my memory. But the menace of ‘Naxalism’ completely ruined my enthusiasm. We could not go to remote villages and surely not in a ‘car or jeep’ as they generated extra attention, and one local naxalite expert told me that in election time Naxals do not think before bashing up any outside face. Their policy.. first bash them up.. we will see the other issues later.

Though Ranchi city seemed quite peaceful, I ventured out on bike to find my childhood school and all I knew about that school was that there used to be a small hillock near the school and at top of that hillock there was a water tank. I called my mother to get more info, she told that the school was near a Hanuman temple in Harmu. We drove in and around Harmu and were able to locate almost 4-5 temples but the hillock was nowhere. That means there was no way to get to my school. New constructions and other developments made this place completely different from the image of this place I had in mind.
So I came back to the guesthouse, disappointed and full of thoughts. Naxalism, Development, Urbanization etc.. My plan to take a road trip to Daltonganj, Garhwa and Ranka stood canceled. I wanted to use this weekend for that. It would have been an experience to visit these places but the fear of Naxalites and poor connectivity to these places have left me with no options. Probably I will dare again, after the elections when the Naxal activities subside.

my school :)

my school 🙂

Next day I was busy in my official chores and I had given up on finding my old school in the concrete jungle, but a local resident and employee of the host organization here in Ranchi, blessed me with his local knowledge. He knew the location of the hillock which has a water tank on top. I realized I can still see my school and I ventured out. He took me near the hillock, in front of a very big nice looking school, St. Francis High School. He was sure that this was my school, but I knew I was not that lucky to have studied in schools like these. But I could still see the hillock and the water tank on top, our favorite place for having lunch around 23 years ago.
I wanted to go there again on the hilltop and somehow I found a way to go there and on the way, I could see an almost dilapidated building and here I was. That’s my school, I shouted. Rajkiya Krit Madhya Vidyalaya, Harmu – 12. Suddenly those faint memories became vivid. I could remember the place I used to stand for morning prayers and the school gate and numerous related incidents. School gate was a common factor in most of the incidents. I jumped the wall to go inside the campus (once inside I realized there were numerous ways, and surely not intended ones, to get inside the campus, the surrounding wall was broken at many places) and saw the menu of the food served under Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan painted on the wall.
I pulled out my cam, wanted to capture these moments of relived, realized nostalgia. Great feeling to be there. If I look back on my school days, the biggest complaint (apart from not being able to study in any ‘decent’ schools) is my father’s job forcing frequent school changes for me, that means I could never have those childhood friends. All gone. No trails.