Growing up, I had always been inspired by my mother, a true philanthropist actively involved in uplifting the vulnerable group back in my hometown. Let it be fighting for their rights, giving education to the children of the migrant and daily wage workers, life skill training, creating awareness in the society and creating a space to contribute without any expectation.
My mother instilled this spirit of SEWA BHAV in me since childhood because my native home, a coastal town in Odisha (Baleshwar), was susceptible to hurricanes and tsunamis. After a devastating natural calamity, we used to collect medicines, blankets, water, food, and clothes for the affected people to survive and negotiate with the local administration for a place to stay for those many days. Worked in hospitals for those who did not have an attendant to be by their side when they were looking for one. In my college days, I was actively involved in teaching child labourers in their free time and converted around 50 to mainstream back in my hometown.
I continue this with my daughter, where we engaged in various volunteer work with an NGO that educates children of daily wage and migrant workers who don’t possess fixed settlements as their homes, making their children’s access to education difficult. And with my experience, I support the organisation in getting the registration form for the policy recruiting people to volunteer and fundraise.
On Saturdays and Sundays, my daughter and I go to the centre and teach on a simple blackboard and chalk. On my first day there, it was a bit daunting. Even though I had the experience of teaching my daughter, they didn’t like me; that was my initial thought. They were already well versed with their alphabets in both Hindi and English. We just had to take it forward. They all learned better when they saw or did something with it.
I remember a child who has shifted to Lucknow now; let's call him Z. He was struggling with the alphabet, too, so I was a bit concerned. He was a newcomer, but he was regular, which made my acquaintance who ran the NGO happy, but it made me very confused and concerned. I was looking up as to why he was facing problems, and then I realised that maybe he might have had dyslexia. We got him checked out, and he was diagnosed with dyslexia. I looked up some accommodative measures, and they worked well for him. I could also see some progress with the material he was learning. It took time, but it worked well. After two years, his father found work in Lucknow, and they went there; I haven’t heard from him yet, but I am sure he must be doing well wherever he is.
They are getting more curious and interrogatory; how a child’s brain works fascinates me. Their constant need to ask the whys in life has made me stronger, and if I am doing something, there must be a clear-cut purpose that has to be laid out in front of me. The whys in our lives often spark a fire in our hearts, which tells us to go in the most pragmatic direction at the given time with our given circumstances and experiences.
These little ones have taught me so much: the patience to observe, the joy of seeing their favourite phenomena each time and the simple playfulness that they all possess despite the hardships and challenges that they face every day astonishes and motivates me to work harder in pursuit of my goals and in pursuit of helping them achieve theirs.