This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ramkumar Venkataraman. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

How An IT Worker, A Journalist, And A 78-Year-Old Homemaker Found A Calling In Teaching

What can be common across Avni, an LLB student in Delhi, Manju Sengupta, a 78-year-old home-maker in Navi Mumbai, Zeel Patel, a software professional in California, Swapnil, an IT professional in Pune, and Chitra Phadnis, a journalist freelancer based in Bangalore? Interestingly, all of them are driven by a common passion – promoting education for children in rural India, and are all online volunteer teachers with eVidyaloka, a Bangalore based NGO bringing urban volunteers together with village children through a Digital Classroom model, using remote connectivity.

Zeel is a post graduate in computer science from a leading US university, now a software engineer with a leading technology firm in California. He was among the thousands of the Indian diaspora wanting to do something back for the country, and discovered his joy of teaching, even while he does that from his living room in the wee hours of US time, just when the school bell rings in a Chachgura school in the state of Jharkhand in India.

Take the context of Chitra, a senior journalist, who has a natural flair for the English and enjoys teaching the language, and sees the joy of reaching to faces that are, in her own words, “smiling, chattering and waiting to start learning.” She reaches out to the children in Jharkhand every week, from her home, which is at Bangalore.

Even more interesting is the inspiration of Manju, a homemaker, who has learnt all about dealing with Skype and computers at the age of 78, so that she can teach the rural children in their digital classroom, and is quite popular with the children for her exciting stories and narratives with children of the Government school in Podlara village of West Bengal, where she teaches remotely, online.

All of the above are real-life examples of what volunteer teaching can do to lift the quality of rural education in India, and potentially attempt to bridge a small fraction of the million-teacher gap that the country desperately needs to fill. 70% of India’s population is in villages, and notwithstanding the mid-day meals, uniforms, books and the school infrastructure, the drop-out rates in rural schools are more than 50%. A principal cause for this is the shortage of teachers that the country suffers from. And that is where these positive stories of volunteer teachers look to make a serious difference, in creating an empowered and educated India.

At the core of eVidyaloka’s 6-year journey are 800+ volunteer teachers who have been participating in this cause of educating rural Indian children from across 280 cities around the world. Each volunteer teacher commits to spending two hours a week, which is then channelized by eVidyaloka to a village school, based on the time-slots, language preference and subject that is being taught.

The impact those two hours a week make in the child’s world is immense. This digital classroom model of eVidyaloka has positively helped more than 7000 children, with almost 500,000 digital child-learning hours delivered in the last six years. This educational movement has grown from a single centre experiment in 2011 to more than 130 village centres today, across the states of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The classes are extended from grade 6 to 8, and focused on the subjects of Science, Maths and English.

The model is quite simple. eVidyaloka connects the urban teacher to the Government school in the remote village through a digital classroom. A computer with a microphone, wide-angle camera, good quality speaker, a TV to project and a broadband connectivity is all that it takes to get the digital classroom up and running!

But there is more to it than meets the eye. An entire operational machinery works behind the scenes to measure the learning outcome of the children, monitoring class delivery and student attendance, reviewing adherence to standards and quality measures. However, those are but predicates, in this context. What matters here, is that from a child’s standpoint, the teacher appears on the TV screen when the bell rings (instead of her walking in physically into the classroom) to bring in a new world of learning, and the magic unfolds, quite literally!

For the volunteer teacher, there could be nothing more gratifying than giving it back to the “roots”. The joy of teaching can be quite addictive too! Talk to any of them, and it is always fascinating to see what excites them about this experience. While it is a matter of giving back to the society for some, it is quite about using time productively for the more matter-of-fact, and for many others, this is another world that they look forward to, week after week. After all, here you are teaching to the rural child in her vernacular, and the very charm of speaking, teaching and connecting in one’s own mother-tongue is an experience that cannot be traded for any dessert.

From university students, part-time professionals, graduate home-makers, retired teachers, freelancers, sabbatical leave holders, ex-servicemen, and just regular working professionals – the list of teachers in this voluntary world is quite exciting and long! Sustenance of the committed time of volunteers is a key factor here. eVidyaloka invests a fair bit of its team’s bandwidth to screen and orient volunteers on their roles, as it is also important to sustain continuity of the same teacher with a given classroom at least for a 3 to 4 month period.

A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instil a love of learning, it is said. And teachers influence the life of a child, more than anyone. To quote Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, “True teachers are those who help us think of ourselves!” Here is a cause that beckons the teacher in every Indian, to spare just two hours a week, that may go a long way in grooming, mentoring and shaping the future of the rural child, and more importantly, the future of our country.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

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Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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