Teenagers in metropolitan cities are usually born and brought up in a lavish way leading them to develop an appetite to follow an elite lifestyle. They long to spend their summer school break by exploring new places, engross themselves in kid-friendly activities, or join some co-curricular activities. But Diya Shah, a 17-year-old rebellious and energetic girl and a student of BD Somani International School, decided to do something very different.
After the ICSE board exams, she decided to spend her summer break at Khamgaon village in Raigarh to teach basic English grammar to the villagers. Initially, her parents were extremely reluctant to send her
alone to the village. But the idea of reaching out to villagers and impacting their lives did appeal to them.She worked with the NGO Swades, which is led by Zarina Screwvala. She initially worked at Swadesh as an intern and analysed data for self-help groups. Doing something challenging towards the betterment of rural India has always been an ambition of young Diya.
Diya says, “We live in an extremely superficial world and are so blinded my monetary wealth and vices that we have never looked to the other side which is village.”
Diya believed that education needed the necessary boost as it would bridge the communication gap. She prepared interactive modules and PowerPoint presentations in a bid to make English classes more interactive and fun.
The journey begins
Diya embarked on this journey in June 2014 and stayed with a family in the village itself and took part in their day-to-day activities and thus formed a familial bond with them. She would wake up early in the morning and shared daily chores like making chapattis, getting water from the well, and many other household activities.
While describing the experience in the village, Diya fondly remembers, “I used to interact with them in Marathi language and within a few days they accepted me as their members. They make a living through happiness; they live in unity as one village. Their warmth and acceptance makes you question your open-mindedness despite living in the typical ‘metropolitan.’ They taught me that to be happy you don’t need money.”
Getting people to understand the importance of English was not an easy task but with the recognition ‘the new girl’ got thanks to the villagers, Diya was able to convey her purpose of coming to Khamgaon village.
Soon enough the children developed an appetite to learn more and urged Diya to take classes in the evening as well. Then she extended the time of classes and taught them in the night be it revising alphabets, reading, understanding grammar rules, and more.
Indians have been brought up with the stereotype that speaking or knowing English makes one superior to people who do not speak the language. This misconception often drives people to lose confidence and develop an inferiority complex.
Diya says, “To remove this misconception, I decided to teach basic English such as verbs, adverbs, nouns, adjectives, articles so that they would be able to build basic English sentences easily.”
Moreover, Swades had a sewing class for women in the afternoon at the centre where she would interact with them and finally convinced them to join her English classes. Within one week, more than 30 women started attending her class.
Diya then formed three batches. A students’ batch in the morning, which had third to ninth standard children, an afternoon batch of only women, and an evening batch of college students.
Diya says that Swades had invested in learning toys for the children at the ‘Anganwadi’s – preschools’ in 30 villages of Raighad District. She then taught teachers the mechanism of using those toys and went to about 12–15 villages across the Raighad District and approached about 25–30 schools in the respective village.
It’s time to say good bye
On the last day of her stay in Khamgaon, the villagers organised a ‘Bidaai – Goodbye’ for Diya. The entire village gathered and expressed their gratitude by delivering broken English speeches of how Diya had impacted their life both personally and holistically. The seven weeks stint in Khamgaon made her value love, family bonding and realise that there is no better profession than being humane.
Diya elucidates, “In order to fuel your dream and vision, it is not always mandatory to step out from a small village or town to a big city. One can achieve those desired goals by staying in a village also. Today, I look at rural India not with that eye of pity, but with the eye of hope, change, and empowerment.”
Diya signs off with an inspirational message:
‘A place is only as good as the people in it.’
‘Sw se bana des-
Mera Des; Aapka Des; Hum sab ka Des.’