– The blog piece has been written by Ms. Amrutha Krishnan, who works as the School Transformation lead at Mantra4Change.
My thoughts strayed and for a minute or two I was completely unaware of the scene unfolding in front of my eyes. I felt like I was back in Chennai, in my classroom amidst my children. The topic I had thrown at my kids chalked hastily on the black board and I would be armed with a chalk piece in one hand and a white board marker in another, ready to be used once the black board gets filled with their thoughts and ideas. During one of those sessions with my kids I had strayed just as I had now, thinking back to those initial few months when these kids, who were now confidently opining their views, had met my questions with blank stares and shy smiles.
I am sharply tugged back to reality, to that brightly painted room, as Nadiya and Saba – 20 years old girls from the conventional Muslim community- stare at me expectantly. They were waiting for me to throw them the next guiding question that would help them lead the session to conclusion. The evening sun glowed dimly on the faces turned up towards me- the faces of teachers for whom I had been conducting a session on planning and execution of a lesson. Yes, as a project lead at MANTRA, a large part of my work involves teachers’ professional development in schools that cater to low income communities. I remember Khushboo (a colleague) explaining to us, the newly recruited team, about MANTRA’s project TARGET (Talent Recognition, Engagement and Training Program) with much excitement. “We train youth from the community to go back into classrooms and teach the children”. The excitement was palpable and all of us were pumped up.
The extent of impact that TARGET had on the ‘community youth’ became evident to me only after I met the vivacious, energetic power houses Saba, Nadiya and Arshiya. These young girls, in their own ways, are challenging the status quo and are proving their mettle against all odds. TARGET had meant that after their morning college classes (or as fresh graduates), they rush down to the school to teach children of their own community. This funds their own higher education and takes a huge burden off the school management’s shoulder because finding dedicated teachers in these communities had always been a problem that has eluded solution. In spite of their packed schedule, these girls religiously plan for the lessons to be taught the next day and prepare for their college classes. The amount of grit and courage in these girls amaze me every single day. And now when they stand up and talk to other teachers on how to plan their daily lessons, I stand looking on like an awe struck bystander.
In hindsight, I learnt a valuable lesson.
You don’t have to go far to seek inspiration. There is always a Saba or a Nadiya to show that people with determination and passion still exist in this topsy-turvy world of ours. When, during one of those days, I feel low thinking about the state of education, waste management, moral situations and the million other problems that boldly parade down our streets, I think of these girls. They don’t have a fancy schooling or money to boast of. But their work is rooted in their reality and their determination to make it in this world in spite of their grim circumstances blows my mind away and I know that the world has a few safe hands that shall guard it.