A Young Engineer Is Changing Lives Of Slum Children Through Community Leadership Programmes
‘Never, never be afraid to do what is right.’ King said ‘Society’s punishments are small as compared to the wounds we inflict on our souls when we look away”, shared Harsh Mander.
With a passion to innovate ed-space, Subodh couldn’t look away from the education divide between rural and urban India. A computer science engineer from a small town named Ichalkaranji, he believes in the power of passion and says, “During my engineering days, I always wondered if students here were to live a life of passion and purpose with very limited exposure and opportunities, how would it look like.” The question which led him to create his brainchild Insight Walk in 2012, primarily a virtual online space where the gap between students studying in rural and semi-urban cities and those studying in metro cities can be bridged. In order to understand the state of education at grassroots, Subodh joined Teach For India Fellowship in 2014. During his fellowship, he was placed in a first-year intervention school where he taught 66 grade 2 and 3 kids. Tracing back his journey, Subodh shares, “For me, the first two months were really tough as kids couldn’t write alphabets or digits. Also the parental investment was very low and five hours of teaching intervention was not enough.”
Domestic violence was at the peak in the community, and it was of utmost importance to fix the learning gap and find measures to reduce domestic violence. This gave birth to the idea of a Community Center in his third month of fellowship itself. Unlike the standard definition of any Community Center, Subodh had a different way of putting and implementing it. He describes Community Center as, “A space where kids can explore their interests, be passionate, and create a space of interdependence. It is a space where they can learn new ideas with hands-on experience and are exposed to theatre, entrepreneurship, foreign languages, arts, and music.”
Eventually the most important stakeholders- the parents, are integrated with the Community Center, where they start participating actively. This has fostered relations between kids and their parents and eventually helping in bringing down the community’s domestic violence quite significantly.
By the end of his fellowship, Subodh achieved his most important goal of creating independent community leaders. Subodh believes that in the absence of a teacher, the class should not lose its focus and the best way to go about this is training students to be community leaders where they inspire others to keep going. Few of his students went on to win the International Olympiad, and many kids have become leaders and entrepreneurs in the Community Center.
One of the reasons behind this positive outcome is the implementation “Reflecting back”. Reflection was adopted as the Center’s daily chore, and he always asked students to reflect on their experience, learning, and actions.
While the curriculum fails to capture the day to day lives of students, Subodh bridged this by using the classroom as a space to foster discussions. Using the classroom to churn dialogue about their daily lives and implementing blended learning by bringing all the stakeholders into the long term goal. He proudly says, “Always take into account current reality, but that doesn’t stop us from lowering our benchmarks of excellence for them.”
After his fellowship, he worked as a Program Manager at Teach For India to create more transformational classrooms and thereby immerse in the lives of more kids and families. He started working primarily with Yerwada community in Pune. Just like the fellowship, the challenges here were enormous. Violence and substance abuse in younger kids were dominating across the community, and role models within the community were missing. “Kids would look at us as role models, but won’t look at their parents as their role models. This was disheartening and wouldn’t let me settle,” said Subodh.
In December 2016, Subodh participated in the first edition of Winter Gramya Manthan by Youth Alliance. He talks about it and says, “During those nine days, I got enough time to sit back and reflect which left me with many questions. I firmly started believing that life changing pathways for kids will come from the community. The Gramya Manthan Journey simplified several things for me and eventually helped me understanding the inclusive community.”
As soon as he came back from the journey, Subodh went back to the same kids he taught during the fellowship and discussed the idea of an in-house community centre – a space created at the kids home with the help of their parents. “Pairing children and parents to own the overall development by bringing them closer via a platform will not only ensure that the kids are growing, but will also deepen their faith and belief in their people,” believes Subodh. He piloted two in-house Centres which are entirely run by kids and their parents. Talking about his inspiration to start more Centres he said that through Gramya Manthan he experienced the power of immersing in the life of people and understanding them by doing the same.
Immersing in the lives of people, again
Currently, Subodh is in the process of registering Insight Walk as a non-profit organization. It will be a space where people live their passions, every day; a space where kids make an informed choice about their career based on their skills, interests and passion; a space where parents play a crucial role in the journey of the kids and encourage them at every stage. Insight Walk aims at working with children from under-privileged communities in rural and urban slums. “We strongly believe that poverty shouldn’t dictate destiny. We believe literacy is not the end of education neither is it the beginning. It is just the means by which humans can be educated. Education should extract the best out of every child. It should be a process to create a meaningful life by unleashing the hidden potential in each child. It is not restricted to four walls of the school, in fact, it’s a process of learning by living and experiencing,” explains Subodh.
He is determined to spend next phase of life in understanding the journey of passion and purpose from cradle to career. Subodh will be working closely with villages, urban slums and college students of rural and low-income backgrounds on creating this journey.
Subodh currently spends his time travelling to rural spaces and is building Insight Walk and can be reached at [email protected]
This is an initiative of Logical Indian with Youth Alliance to share the work done by their alumni in respective societies.
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