My Teach for India fellowship had ended in May 2013. But I continued to teach my students till June to help them cover their syllabus. After all, we all were very excited that they have made it to the tenth grade. We, both my students and I, had come a long way in understanding each other.
A rafting trip at rishikesh
A close friend of mine happens to drop by at Ummeed one day. In addition to working in a senior position in a multinational firm, he is also an administrator-cum-trainer at one of the rafting camps at Rishikesh. He happened to propose to my students, the very idea of a trip at Rishikesh for free.
My students always wanted to have an outing after they had passed IX grade. Perhaps, they had earned it. So I decided to take them for rafting. It was an exciting journey. For the first time, I stayed back for the entire night at Ummeed. And my students didn't sleep and didn't let me either. They were so excited! They danced and talked and listened to loud music in the middle of the night. At 5 AM we left for railway station. During the entire train journey, we talked and had lots of fun. After having a nice lunch at Haridwar, we took a bus to Rishikesh and from Rishikesh bus stand, we reached the rafting camp sitting in a truck while three of my students were sitting at the top!
For two days, we enjoyed a lot. I was shouting at top of my voice. I was very happy to give this small little happiness to the children. We played volleyball, did swimming, kayaking and of course rafting. We had bonfire in the night, surrounding which we played antakshari. It was super duper fun doing all of this with my students.
The X grade
My students were very happy and excited to be in X grade. I was too! I was hearing some new statements now:
"It is only now that I have understood how to study in a school and how to study at all!" - An honest example of their integration to mainstream.
"I think I can now become an IPS Officer. It is only because of you that I am not back on the streets of Connaught Place" - A strong example of rebuilding aspirations
"My mother gifted me a mobile phone for passing IX grade and scoring highest in SST in class" - A heart touching example of a student who was not even in talking terms with his mother previously. He told about his passing IX grade after three months of the results. I was very happy to see him getting integrated back with his family.
"I know the way to success now. I can take a drug de-addiction program or whatever you say. All I want to do now is to study very very hard." A student on drugs since his childhood.
We studied from 8AM to 8 PM like previously. I taught them all subjects - from Biology to Hindi. These children and their aspirations became my life line. For the first time, in my life I saw the ability to touch people's lives in a very very positive way. I came because of this at Teach for India. I knew, two years back, in my software job, nothing seemed to make sense to me. I was performing and getting promoted reasonably well but I was not able to unleash this power within. My students elicit this power. They demanded it and I was able to respond. I am so grateful!
Of course then, it was very hard to end this. It still is. I wake up in the middle of the night and think about Ummeed, about the love that I received from my students. I never felt it so strongly ever in my life. I can't recount reasons here that why I chose not to continue. In larger scheme of things, may be those reasons just doesn't matter. But the fact remains that I have to move on.
I talk to my students everyday. But I know that nothing will remain the same. Those children are without any direct care of an adult. It is going to be so hard for them to walk on the path that I have showed them. Right now, they are trying tremendously hard to do that. Or may be I am finding it harder not to be there for them and leave them to become independent and responsible for their lives. I just think they were about to get ready but were not fully ready.
For them, it has always been that people come and go. I didn't do anything different. They always knew since the beginning of last year that I will leave after a year but that time, they wanted that year to end quickly. They hated and mistrusted me then. Now everything has changed. They wanted me to take them along. I want to take them along. We really are so closely connected.
I am still working on some solutions to help my students in my greatest capacity. I know I am not at all in peace with it. I am very very excited for my new job because it is taking me to next degree of impact. But right now I am just not ready for the trade off.