Ratna's Reflections on Gyaan Ghar, Spring 2017

I was lucky to be able to visit our learning center this week, even if just for a few days. Though I wasn't there long, I wanted to share briefly my thoughts on where we came from, where we are, and where we're going.


What we've achieved

It strikes me every time I go back to Ludhiana how amazing it is that Gyaan Ghar is still running. This may not seem like a big deal, but the consistency and enthusiasm with which teachers and students alike approach Gyaan Ghar is admirable, and major credit for the ongoing success of the school goes to my grandmother, Amrit Kaur, who supervises the organization's daily operations.

I am always so thrilled to see faces we had in our original class of 20 students in 2008 still present, nine years later! 2018 will mark Gyaan Ghar's 10th anniversary, and I couldn't be more grateful to all of you for your support in making that happen.

Varinder painted this poster advocating
for conservation of our natural resources.
Apart from the sheer fact of its existence, the thing that impressed me the most during my visit this year was the creativity and innovation with which students approach their academic and extracurricular work on a daily basis. I remember vividly when I would plead with the students to "paint whatever you want!" in the early days of the school and would be met with blank stares, since individuality is simply not a focus of the education system under which they study. This spring, the students not only pulled together a talent show in three days (with each student performing a piece they prepared independently, with feedback from fellow students), but also took a day off of rehearsals to just do a relaxed day of painting and drawing (mind you, this was all during their spring break).

Teachers gave no direction as to what they should paint; and each student's painting turned out different. Again, this doesn't seem that big a deal, but drawing or painting without a ruler, exact dimensions, and step-by-step directions was unheard of for these students even a few years ago. In fact, watching them all recite the answers they had memorized by rote in the early days was one of my first motivations for wanting to make sure we emphasized art and creative activities at the learning center. So this progress gave me much joy. (One student even chose to make as his project a poster advocating for environmental protection -- a man after my own heart!)

What we need to work on

The next big thing Dadi and I are focusing on is how to connect Gyaan Ghar alums to opportunities beyond high school. We just had our first graduate, Surinder, get admitted to college for Commerce, and we have a number of students in 10th grade who are studying Commerce as well. We are looking for mentors in our New Lajpat Nagar community who can provide advice and guidance for students, as well as firms in the neighborhood who would be interested in connecting with students from our alum network in the future.

Alum Surinder serves samosas to younger students after the talent show.
This week, we asked Surinder to visit the group of 10th graders periodically to share tips on the college application and selection process with his former schoolmates.

We also selected one of our older students Varinder, who is interested in photography and design, to run social media for Gyaan Ghar on the ground -- so keep an eye out for posts from him on our Facebook page!



The vision

I've had many different goals for Gyaan Ghar over time. It was originally only going to be open to girl students; at one point we were only going to teach the arts. I would say the learning center has evolved based on what the community has voiced that they've wanted (for example, parents preferred that students focus first on preparing for board examinations, and work on creative activities over their holidays since this would set them up for success at their public day school -- so that's how we currently structure our curriculum). I'm most pleased that Gyaan Ghar staying open means 65 students have a safe space 365 days a year where their only job is to be curious and creative and to learn, for as long as they can attend classes with us.

And the motivation for me continues to be to use Gyaan Ghar as a place to pass my privilege on. I sadly still get too many questions on why I focus on "social work" now that I've graduated from Harvard. My answer to that question is always: who else should focus on social issues? If the people born into the most privilege aren't willing to give their time and attention to sharing that privilege with other people, then who will? It may be polarizing (and the fact that I can say this is a sign of my privilege in itself), but in my opinion, it's the only way to live a life.

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I thank you for your ongoing support, and welcome any questions and ideas you may have on this quick post reflecting on my recent visit! Please feel free to reach out via email or leave a comment below.

1 comment:

Anjali Jha said...

Amazing work! Keep it up👍🏻