Anant Vikas aims to bridge the ever widening urban-rural divide in India. We are working with young school going children 13 years to 17 years because we believe that shaping young minds is a major step in achieving our objectives. We have designed two flagship programmes that are working towards this mission. The first, called Youth Empowerment Mission (YEM) developed around the concept of service learning and the second is the Indian Youth Parliament (IYP) which centres around creating interest and awareness among the Indian youth about the legislative processes.
Youth Empowerment Mission (YEM)
YEM is built around service learning. Service learning as a concept began in the early 1960s in the United States of America in response to a perceived need of alienation of youth from their communities. However, in India, such a concept has been part of the ancient gurukul (the house of the guru) education. Gurukul was a residential school in India where students lived with the guru. In a gurukul, students, irrespective of their social standing, dressed alike, worked and lived together as equals. The guru did not charge any fees, and so they had to serve the guru. The service included helping the guru in his day-to-day life, including the carrying out of mundane chores such as washing clothes, cleaning the Gurukul, collecting firewood, cooking. By the end of their education, they were expected to pay gurudakshina which was a gesture of acknowledgement, respect and thanks to the guru. This may be monetary to help the guru carry on the tradition, but may also be a task the teacher wants the student to accomplish, such as building a community centre.
In the modern context, we believe that such a tradition would roughly translate into something that resembles service learning. Broadly defined, service learning can be understood as a learning tool that involves students in community service activities with adequate space for self-initiative and cooperation but also instruction from the organisers and reflection to enrich the learning experience. Research, over the years, has building evidence indicating that the practice teaches civic responsibility, and strengthens communities.
We have carefully designed the programme to cover all aspects of service learning. Currently, the participating students are from about 40 major international schools in Mumbai. For a list of the schools, click here.
YEM is a one-day activity where the students visit a rural village within an approximate distance of 50-60 miles. The planning, preparation and the excitement for the programme start nearly a month ahead, with intense preparations 10 days prior to the trip. The number of students in each trip can vary from 40-80 students. They are accompanied by 2-3 teachers. We divide the students into 6-8 groups, and each group takes on one project. These projects are varied and chosen based on the interests of the students and the needs of the community. The needs of the community are assessed through a transect walk or by conducting a baseline survey or focus group discussion. The findings of baseline survey or transect walk carried out during one trip are designed to feed into the work of the next trip. A typical trip may have students taking on as many of 4-5 projects. These projects may include – conducting a baseline survey, teaching children at the village primary school, setting up a sanitation pit, painting an old public toilet, cooking in the community kitchen, researching about the government welfare programmes and performing street plays based on that, or setting up a volleyball court. They bring in the material for the projects they have planned. They would have researched the welfare programmes, written and practised the play a week in advance.
The idea is that the urban children get a chance to interact with their rural counterparts, eat with them, play a game and have at least a tiny window into the lives of rural children. We have often seen that this results in them being interested in doing more. This is the service aspect, where children learn that they can make a difference in their communities. They get real-time feedback from those they interact with in the villages.
Regarding learning, in planning and executing the community projects, they learn important management lessons. They understand the need for teamwork and realise the importance of team dynamics and effective communication. They learn about the social welfare system that their country offers, and more specifically about the various scheme and programmes aimed at rural population. The activities are planned to help the students build the following hard and soft skill sets.
- Organisation, team work, leadership and effective communication
- Planning and implementation of small scale projects
- Research methods like participatory rural appraisal
- Entrepreneurship and Fund raising techniques
- Advocacy through writing and enacting street plays and film making
This form of active learning has received consistent recognition since the writings of John Dewey and Jean Piaget. Maria Montessori was also a proponent of peace studies based on a deep empathy and understanding of fellow community members that bridges the divide. YEM gives students an opportunity to learn about the needs and lifestyle of “the other”, those who are unlike them in many aspects, in spite being fellow citizens with similar aspirations. We encourage reflection where students often share their learnings through an opinion based feedback form. Such feedback also helps us improve our programme.