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What being an Asmat volunteer taught me

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It’s rather funny (now) how I look back at the Asmat volunteering program and laugh at how I had cold feet two days before boarding the train to Jaipur, because of numerous reasons whose quantum inhibits their description. So whence we ( Sakshi Bansal and yours truly) arrived in Soda dripping in sweat and found Lavanya and Abhilasha seeming a little delusional (because of the heat ?) my worst expectations seemed to be confirmed.

Possibly because I’m a little scared of children( one of the many reasons for cold feet), the evening  session daunted me. We were introduced to the kids, and a session of Hangman , more like Sparta, took place. What struck me was how clever all of them were and competitive. Sadly, what also struck me was how the girls were subdued by the boys whose energy and numbers seemed to be overwhelming the girls.

The next morning, teaching began and was it a tough task for someone who hasn’t taught little kids ever before. Teaching little children, who inherently have the attention span of rabbits who’ve been made to drink Red Bull, really makes you understand incentivising.  Promises of toffees and stars and stickers, invoking their competitive spirit, teaching with blocks and pictures and animal sounds, everything was tried and tested including the teachers themselves. Nothing will ever beat the smile on their faces when they answered questions right and the smile on our faces when we realise they actually grasped what was being taught. What really excited me was passing down what I’d been taught during my schooldays to kids I was meeting for the first time and whose lives were quite different from mine, and yet they felt the same happiness at understanding a mathematical concept or pronouncing a word right that I did too.

It wasn’t solely academics that we wanted to work with them on, we wanted to teach them things that aren’t inculcated in their textbooks. Respect for women to the boys, confidence despite being brought up in a patriarchal society to the girls. A respect for the environment despite the fact that many in India would readily (and justifiably) trade away the grasslands and forests for a good occupation. Teaching them to respect their own village when we, a bunch of outsiders, conducted a cleanliness drive. Teaching them to not be cruel to the animals in their surroundings with the example of our little friend erstwhile Maggi G, (now named Mango and under the care of the Sarpanch.) I could write an essay on the mutual benefits reaped, the way we could see a could change in the kids and the way I could feel a change in my own little city brain.

Working with the village girls was a major chunk of what formed my lessons in Soda. A bunch of quiet, unassuming and clever 15-20 year olds, bonding with them was probably the easiest. We were introduced to them during a session on menstrual education on my first, they were too quiet and we were a little worked up by the one sided interaction. By the end of my eighteen days, their aloofness had been traded for happy banter and warmth and we were literally a part of their group. We discussed many issues with them, the one that remains deeply embedded is a session on career awareness that we had. Many of the girls had resigned themselves to the fact that they possibly couldn’t pursue further studies after school or an undergrad from the nearby big town. But some were resolute, someone had started her own beauty parlour and was also giving the UPSC exams, another was surely becoming a doctor. It’s not going to be easy, possibly improbable, for the former category to get the career they want. But they might be able to get some financial security by learning some skills, for the sole purpose of having this financial independence when they see the others and the planting of the very idea through discussion.

The power of juxtaposition, of understanding the complexities of village life bought about inequalities; simply getting electricity, walking two km a day to get water, not having a profitable market to sell the products you’ve toiled on and patriarchy embedded into the minds of people against ours. Back to the city, it’s kind of horrible here when I miss how long the days in Soda were (why is this a real cliche?) and the simplicity of people and swinging Kuldeep every evening and the long walks around the village. It really won’t be a visit to work in the village from now on, just a trip to meet people we know and carry on the discussions and mutual lessons we began.

Asmat is launching another program which will involve developing the enterprise of the Self Help Groups of the village of soda, who currently face many problems in finding demand for their products.The application deadline ends by 30th August. 
You can find details of the Rural Enterprise Development Program here:

 Read more about Asmat:


Kavya Saxena

Journalism has been called the “first rough draft of history”. D.U.B may be termed as the first rough draft of DU history. Freedom to Express.

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