Asmat is a non-governmental organisation started by a group of students studying at Lady Shri Ram College. It aims to bring about change at the grassroots level, by attempting to bring change in the thought process of the rural citizens to make equality between genders, caste, class and financial literacy a reality. One of the ways in which it fulfils this aim is by sending a team of volunteers-cum-interns to Soda, a village in Rajasthan – once every six months. I had the opportunity of being selected as one of the interns for the Summer Internship Program 2016, and my work involved ideating and designing plans for implementation in Soda; and conducting the sessions there with different target groups – men, women as well as children.
After being rejected three times straight, the confirmation email for the Asmat Summer Internship finally greeted me one beautiful day in March 2016. Despite the sheer joy of the moment I knew one thing – it wasn’t going to be easy – Asmat had taught me my first lesson in a very subtle and powerful way. My journey started that very day – when I went back home from college and shared my joy with my parents. “Who are they? What do these people do?”, “Why do you want to work with an NGO?“, “How will you go, come back and what work will you be doing there?” These were some of the questions which I had to answer. To be honest, I only had incomplete answers to their questions, and while their concerns were genuine I was very clear about one thing – I was going as part of this program. While things resumed to normal after that day, a barrage of questions came from my parents now and then.
Meanwhile, we had been divided into different teams. I was glad to have been part of the team which designed lessons for the women in Soda. For the next month or so, we planned sessions and discussions over WhatsApp became a regular affair until it was time to leave. As I boarded my early morning train to Jaipur, I was nervous yet excited. The train journey was a short one, and it got over before one could have a conversation with all of their teammates – since everyone worked in different teams.
After reaching, we hogged on our lunch – for we had no idea what food we would be getting for the next twelve days – and waited for the minibus which would take us to Soda. The bus arrived sometime in the afternoon. As I saw the previous batch of interns (summer means two sets of Asmat volunteers in Soda) say their goodbyes to the core team, I felt the enthusiasm and energy of Asmat in full swing. That’s when I knew I was in for an inexplicable journey.
The village I went to is divided into several ‘dhanis’ (hamlets), and the ones I had the opportunity to go to were – ‘Main Soda’ and Dagdiyon ki Dhani. There are several aspects and layers about my visit to Soda, but my favourite part remains my time with the children of Soda. The children in both the dhanis, were incredibly enthusiastic and they made me feel at home in no time.
While you will never be able to match their level of energy, you will also find it hard to sit down even for a second – because you don’t want to miss out on any moment with these kids. These kids shower you with unconditional love and the fact that they are probably meeting you for the first time, doesn’t affect them at all! Our team held various sessions with the children in Soda – literacy sessions, cleanliness and sanitation sessions, as well as gender sensitisation sessions. Before and after each session, the kids used to play one game with us – their only incentive to sit quietly through the session. For the twelve days in Soda, each day there had to be a new game to play – ‘I sent a letter to my father’, ‘red letter’, ‘ice-water’ and much more. My time with the children took me back to my carefree childhood days – playing out with your friends till your parents dragged you inside.
The children in Soda, have their unique way of showing how much you mean to them. Some of them, literally think of you as a tree and will climb onto your back –sometimes, in a group of more than two people. One of my favourite memories with the children remains of telling them about ‘group hug’. It didn’t happen in one day, of course, but I had no idea it would take them about ten days to pick up this habit. But once they did, they would never let go of the group hug; and it was one of these group hugs that made me cry on my last day with these children.
My time in Soda taught me things that I could never learn in a classroom, or in the privileged environment to which I belong. More importantly, it has helped me become a better version of myself. It made me realise I have strengths undiscovered earlier. I also overcame weaknesses I never thought I could. Apart from the numerous subtle, yet powerful lessons, Asmat and Soda gave me a bag full of memories and some of the best teammates to work with – and for this ultimate combination of things alone, I think each one of you should visit Soda at least once.