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First Steps on the Path

Two years seem like a long time period? Oh then you certainly haven’t heard of the Teach For India Fellowship. It’s a crazy ride on a bumpy road that ends before you know it. No really! I joined Teach For India as a part of the 2015 cohort and year one has already come to an end! Feels like it was just yesterday that I landed in blazing Pune and joined the beeline formed by other 15’ers, waiting for our bus to Institute- where the journey of my leadership began.

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Fortunately, my internship this summer break with the Teach For India Communications team took me back to Institute. It was a unique opportunity to meet and interact with the 2016 cadre of Fellows, and to observe things through new pair of lenses. Believe me when I say that a kind of déjà vu and jamais vu hit me together. Everything felt both familiar and different at the same time. On reaching the Flame campus at Lavale (the venue for Institute – the five week residential training program prior to the Fellowship) this time, my expectations were clear w.r.t my work, my room and roommate, the food, and most importantly the people I’d meet. Rewind to last year and the situation was completely different. I had reached this place with a mind full of speculations and apprehensions, and through my conversations with the 16’ers, I’ve discovered that most of us arrive here that way! Rizvi Aquil Abbas summed up his state of mind by saying “I was clueless about what I would get out of this Institute. I just knew that they would be teaching us how to teach.”

The beauty of this campus is always breathtaking. “Institute is awesome. Feels like all the good people have been segregated from the world and sent here” says an exhilarated Tejas Bhagat! There are multiple reasons behind this I guess. Parijat Prakash had the same opinion too, “I am loving the diverse group of people here. We talk about things ranging from books to dance, from social problems to solutions, and even mythology. I missed having these conversations in the corporate sector. In just three days I have made such great friends!” This place drives all of us nostalgic. “The last time I was on a college campus was two years back but these hills and these people make me feel like I have always been here”, says Shrishti Pandey. However, this place goes beyond its beauty to leave an indelible mark on your memory. It is the first seat of learning for every Fellow. It teaches you to look within for answers, to reflect. This life lesson keeps a Fellow going through the challenges back in the city of their placement. Samapika Dash talked of the silver lining in the cloud, “The energy is a notch higher than what I had heard of. It’s very vibrant but I have no time to breathe. One good thing that I have learnt is to reflect. Earlier I used to depend upon feedback, but couldn’t find my mistakes by looking only within. I definitely want to continue with reflecting independently.”

The atmosphere around is so charged up that sleep seems too distant a possibility. I remember there were nights I just couldn’t fall asleep because of the fear that I wouldn’t get up on time and miss my session or the bus to the summer school. I could totally relate with Shiby Nair when she said that, “the last five days have been like so much information that I haven’t had the time to sit back and synthesize. I need sleep to think clearly.” Sessions form a large part of our days and we kept sipping on coffee to stay attentive. Shrishti too admitted, “I need to go out wash my face and get back.” Despite all odds, the passion to be the change we wish to see keeps all the brave hearts going. People around used to sometimes ask me, I well remember, how I looked so fresh after almost 12 hours of training almost everyday. I found Jose Kuriakose answer the same question almost as I did back then. He said, “I’m not at all tired. I get more and more excited as I get new papers and information. It’s all too exciting.”

There are so many firsts waiting to happen in your life in this place. Community visits for example. I can still feel the warmth of my first community visit in my heart. So many prejudices were shattered. I met a bunch of energetic kids who danced with us, played cricket, and talked at length about their dreams so passionately. Inspirational stories from those communities still echo in my head. Shrishti talked about her experience with me, “Community visits have been the highlight of the first week. I was so inspired by an old woman’s story that I recorded it to share later!” Dhriti Sahoo had this to say, “The community visit was a very raw, first-hand experience. They had opinions like private schools teach better than the government schools.”

This place empowers you not just with knowledge and skills but the opportunity to hone them. The summer school is that platform. It really excited me to see the process unfold there, meet my first set of kids, and become their ‘didi’. It was such a mix of emotions. Some of my co-fellows, for instance, were anxious about their first teaching experience. Similar was the case with these 16ers. Jose told me that he was “excited to look into the lesson planning part. I had been teaching for the last three years in Saudi Arabia. I’m excited about going out and convincing kids to come to class. I’ve never been in that situation before; I’ve always had kids in my class seated already.” A more contemplative Shiby said, “I already have a vision for my kids that they should be confident individuals. At the same time I’m extremely confused about what summer school is going to be like.”

I had to get back to Mumbai and unfortunately couldn’t stay through the Institute to see the magic unravel again. However, I was content to see that this bunch of Fellows had already begun to feel the transformation within them.

It was lovely to hear Ruchi say, “I didn’t smile that much before, now I see smiling faces everywhere”, and Parijat said that “I now realize how amazing it is to work in a place that you love.”

Well, the path has just begun for them and it continues for me. The enigma of this path is that it never ends. Not until each one of our children receives the excellent education they truly deserve.

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