By Sneha Kalaivanan:
“The girls are proud of the fact that didi is teaching. They’re becoming more confident and realising they too can do anything.” – Nishigandha Babardesai – 2016 Fellow
Nishi was the first person in her family to study for masters, and in political science, so she knew she had to find her own path. As a post-graduate student, she spent a month visiting municipal schools and noticed that in the schools with NGO intervention, students were more empowered. “I realized the system was very rigid. Kids were scared, everything was paper-based and they didn’t have space to speak their minds. Whatever the teacher says is the Bible. By contrast, the children in classrooms without government teachers had amazing views!” she recalls. She believes that minds should be molded at a young age before people develop an instinct to accept one-sided views. Her goal is for children to understand things holistically, so they can make smarter choices, and ultimately help solve myriad problems plaguing the nation.
“I knew I wanted to work in the grassroots of the education sector and I wanted to join Teach For India since 2014. I just wasn’t sure if I could do the Fellowship. I thought a staff internship with the organization would give me clarity,” she says.
As an intern with the Human Resources department, she worked on talent management and learned a lot by shadowing the hiring process. “HR is the first point of contact – I really learned how to speak with people and what tone to take. I also had the chance to work directly with Founder Shaheen Mistri, see children practice performances in the office and of course, hear from people who wanted to join Staff after their Fellowship,” she says. The opportunity gave her an inside look at the organization. “The culture is very positive here, even if there are hundreds of problems with the world, we’re taught to approach things with a sense of possibility. It’s not about making a name here, it’s about growth.”
Today, she’s most proud of the rapport she’s built with her students and their parents, and the way her school team has transformed their relationship with the headmaster. “In the beginning, he was not happy about our presence, but my program manager and co-Fellows spoke to him very constructively, despite the difficulties. Now, he’s happy about what he’s gaining for the kids and the school.” She’s implemented this approach elsewhere. “I visit homes and now have a good batch of girls whose parents message and call me and give me hugs – they used to feel weird about it. We have chai and talk about their daughters.”
She was shocked to find that girls in her class were afraid to talk about menstruation because it was considered taboo. “Now, they can talk about sanitary napkins and even go to my bag and pick one up. They’re comfortable and understand it’s normal, even ‘bhaiya knows about it’. It might not seem like a big deal, but it is for me,” says Nishi.
Most parents in the community want their daughters to be married by 18 or even 16 – educating them is not a priority. But Nishi is convinced that over time, the stigmas will fade and she’s hopeful that dropouts will altogether cease. “They’re studying because they love it,” she says, “they’re proud of me and they’ve become more confident.”
As a ninth-standard social science teacher, her greatest satisfaction is working around people who make genuine bonds. “I couldn’t be in a happier space, professionally. It’s rare in a workplace. I love it when the kids come up to me at the end of the day and tell me they just got what I said!”
Nishi’s vision is to someday translate the perspective she’s gaining into an education policy that tackles the root cause of socio-political problems, and she’s charting her course one day at a time.
About the author: Sneha Kalaivanan is Associate, Communications at Teach For India.
At Teach For India, women break rigid notions of what it means to be a nurturer and a leader and challenge what “service” looks like in the popular imagination. We’re celebrating the incredible journeys of some amazing women who are driving change inside the movement for educational equity!
Applications for the 2017-2019 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Please visit apply.teachforindia.org to submit your application by March 21st, 2017.