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WHAT IS DIFFERENT AT TEACH FOR INDIA – SHARING EXPERIENCES FROM OUR MID-YEAR RETREAT

In a most busy work-life these days, we need breaks every once in a while. The sooner we realize it, the better. We should not wait for letting ourselves explode from the pressure of work before taking that one long-awaited break!

So where should we go to? The least that IT companies have done to us is enabling us enough to spend thousands of bucks on one trip. Indians are vastly choosing foreign destinations as their holiday spots these days. Trips to Goa, Kerala, or North-East have become a thing of past now. For honeymoon, we are even willing to spend half a million bucks for a small trip to Australia, Europe or US, the least.

Here at Teach For India, we are a part of an NGO that works toward eliminating the education-inequity of India. Who has time these days to solve country’s problems? There are enough personal problems in one’s life to worry about. It’s not a fancy, charming, alluring job profile for many people around the world. We don’t afford to take our fellows to any of aforementioned places. But we do have the capability to think beyond the obvious, do above what masses do, and practice what we actually preach!

AT DELHI RAILWAY PLATFORM – It’s horribly cold in Delhi, and we are told to carry not a lot of sweaters as there is a pleasant weather in Jhansi, Madhya Pradesh (MP). All of us are excited. Though, I am not a big fan of company-outings, but I have agreed to go on this retreat. Basically for two reasons: First – it’s compulsory! Second – I am sure it’s going to be a different experience for me.

So, here we are – at the railway platform – a group of close to 100 fellows of Teach For India, along with 30 odd students selected from all over Delhi, to accompany us on our Mid-year retreat of Jan-2016! It is an entirely different momentum that one can feel in the air, when all of us are together – at one place. Fellows from all walks of life are ready to create another chapter in history.

I am, as always, feeling indifferent about the trip.  However, I look forward to the different activities we are going to do in Jhansi and Orchha.

Day 1 –

As soon as we step out at Jhansi platform, we get inside another bus eagerly waiting there to take us to Orchha. I knew this is going to be a hectic day! How could I forget what happened in the training-institute in Pune! For all the beauty, I loved the institute, I never loved the part that I had no real time to enjoy it! “God – I shouldn’t have come”, I kept thinking to myself.

After reaching at a dharmshala-cum-hotel, we have an hour long break; and then we would leave for Taragram – a developed, fully-furnished, kind-hearted and welcoming village in heart of India.

TARAGRAM – There is something very different in its air. I have never been to a place so peaceful before in my life. Everyone is working, busy in mundane tasks of life – yet nobody seems to be running in any race, as we do here in Delhi. It’s clean; it’s pure; and it has a soul that I wanted to meet always. There is creativity; there is culture; there is technology; there is labor; and above all, there is peace!

We explored different work units of Development Authorities(DA), a semi-govt. organization that works for the development of Taragram, since 1996. The Arts-and-crafts unit, I found most amazing. I could not believe the handmade items I see at most costly shops in Select City Walk mall are created in the streets of a village, unknown to us all.

MADHORE VILLAGE – After a quick visit to all four units of DA, we have left for a visit to another nearby village – Madhore. They say it’s the largest village of MP, but I didn’t find it very advanced or developed. However, I see that DA is working great there. They are running literacy programs for women, and also enabling their people for employment. I hope for more development for the largest village of a state, but I need to realize that wherever they are right now -however small it may look to me – it’s a great achievement for them. They have come a long way, from being nobody to being an entrepreneur today! Salutes!

Now we have come back to our hotel in Orchha. As a miracle, we have a couple-of-hours break to relax, or visit, or make friends. You see, every time we have a get-together at TFI, there is always at least one person very interesting whom you meet, and you want to talk to, and you want to be friends with – no matter how cold and indifferent you are! And that’s the beauty of our diversity.

We took a walk to the river side. Though it’s not very fancy, but I like to hear the sounds of its waves. They ask questions that you have never thought about, and they also solve riddles that you could never elsewhere do. You have to just sit here, either alone, or in some nice company!

We come back to the hotel, and we have a surprise game-night. It sounds wonderful. We have a chance to vent our feelings and frustrations out here by role playing. It is fun, and we come closer to our groups by being our true selves.

Day 2- 

I am hoping for a great day, today. I had a good night sleep yesterday, after the game-night. We have come to know that we are going to a Gaushala today. I am really excited now.

GAUSHALA – We have various different activities planned for today. An amazing job by our program managers and retreat team! Of all the great things, I found fodder-feeding activity most attractive. I signed up for it, instantly.

It was great to go to farms, cut fresh fodder, break it into smaller pieces in a handmade chopper, and finally feed to the cows. Nothing in the world can beat the smell and touch of fresh green leaves, and the live experience of feeding the most sacred animal of all.

We have no idea where the entire day spent on. Hopping from one place to the other, enjoying its beauty, and admiring its creativity and grandeur, we went to attend our last session of the day – India – of my dreams!

On reflection sessions, we are being asked many a times in TFI, “What did you learn about yourself in last (few) days/ months?” Here it has been asked again. I find this question always overwhelming, and sometimes annoying. How can you expect from someone to learn something about herself in one or two days? It seems to me only a formality sitting in those sessions and answering for sake of it. I came back home with a lot of thoughts whirling around my head, but no answers to any of them.

ORCHHA FORT- The rest of the day was ours. We went to the Orchha fort, and saw light and sound show. It was amazing to feel the history again, and to know the great victory stories of our ancestors. We had food in one of the tourist-restaurants, and some very nice time spent with some very nice friends.

Day 3 –

We are going to Taragram again today. We have to check out from the hotel here, and leave for Jhansi platform from thereon. We have a couple of sessions, and time to shop in Taragram. It’s a relatively light and relaxing day. I am enjoying this part very much.

JHANSI FORT- We have a very small window between our train and Fort closing timings. We are rushing to see the fort. I am very happy that I didn’t miss this great opportunity. It’s a privilege to witness a place which has given shelter to one of the bravest women of our country – Rani Lakshmibai, grand-daughter of Peshwa Baji Rao. It was great to learn about our history deeper, and explore it alive.

WAY BACK TO DELHI – For the first time in the history of TFI, our multiple generations are travelling in one train – alumni, staff, program managers, fellows and kids – all at one platform. We did a small demonstration of our kids’ skills at the railway station.

One question has been occupying my mind all the time – is there anything I learnt about myself in last 3 days? Is it even possible to do so in such a short duration?

For some unknown reasons, I feel a lot more peaceful today. I feel proud to be a part of the movement that is working for the country, for our children, for fighting the crisis India is facing for decades now, for trying to eliminate the education-inequity!

All I know at this moment is that I am happy that I joined TFI for there is a different peace and content in my mind at this time that I never had in my life ever before!

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