From the busy, maddening, fast life of Mumbai my stay at Agastya was really an eye opener and a surreal experience that I thoroughly enjoyed. My seven day visit at the Agastya campus, Gudivanka Andhra Pradesh introduced me to rural India, an encounter I should have been faced with long ago. I entered the campus pondering on how I could contribute to Agastya but I ended up learning more than teaching. The first thing that struck me was the campus, it was immense and green, especially after seeing all the barren rocky land during the drive to the campus from Bangalore. The campus was clean and aesthetically planned with great thought having gone into it.
On my first day I was fortunate to meet Mr. Ramji Raghavan the founder of Agastya foundation. We had a healthy discussion on the aim and vision of Agastya. I learnt a lot about the entire project, past and future along with the hurdles of seeing this vision through. My first experience at Agastya was a visit to the community where medicinal plants were being distributed. The villagers were co-operative and appreciative. The Agastya team first taught them about the uses of various plants. After that we went to a village called Palli, at about 7 in the evening. We went to the local village school were students of all ages were being taught by an Agastya volunteer. The Students were getting their school doubts cleared by the volunteer. Dr. Shibu explained to me that students pursuing higher level studies were paid a stipend to teach rural students after school. The main reason for this was to help students study as they had no real support system at home. This would help enforce basic skills that are required to take on secondary education. Also, what was heartening for me to learn was that the system encouraged drop outs to go back to school. Children were actually sacrificing time in front of the TV to attend the community class!!
The next day I was introduced to Natesh sir who would be mentoring me throughout my stay. He was the head of the IRIS department. He gave me I list of ideas of projects for IRIS that the students had submitted. Then we researched the ideas, debated their feasibility and shortlisted a few that could be attempted. Natesh sir showed me around the labs and discovery centre, he explained to me that the physics and chemistry department needed more models and experiments for higher grades. Also, many of the models were qualitative in nature and did not involve any calculations. I then began researching various viable experiments that could be performed with the available resources. I searched for experiments in physics especially on conservation of energy. My model/experiment had to be easy to make and use. I had to think out of the box to create an experiment that did not need any fancy machinery and complicated arrangements. The final model made in the model making centre was robust and easy to replicate, more importantly this experiment could be proved with numbers and calculations. The model was a ramp made of cast iron. A marble ball would be let down the ramp kept at a certain height and the distance travelled by the ball measured. Using the measurements it could be demonstrated that potential energy would be equal to kinetic energy, thus illustrating conservation of energy.
The last few days I taught maths to the students who came to the campus. The subject had to be taught in an interactive manner by getting the students involved and curious. I had planned to teach graphs to the students (grades 8 and 9). As they were in secondary school I had taken a certain level of understanding for granted. My experience turned out to be an eye opener as many of the students were struggling with basic arithmetic. I had to improvise and teach them something they would enjoy learning. I took the students’ weights and then graphed it out. The students understood it well. I realized that the main problem they face is that they have no one to help them at home during their formative years so as to strengthen their concepts and gear them for higher studies. This makes the Agastya vision and initiative all the more important and vital to the progress of the region. The fact that Agastya maintains a sustainable relationship with the students by making sure that each student comes to the campus at least 6-8 times a year is commendable.
I left the campus with lots to think about. I am grateful to Agastya for giving me the opportunity to see a bit of real India. This trip made me appreciate the privileges I enjoy. The Agastya model is revolutionary, something that can be replicated anywhere. The children I came across were alive, curious to learn and eager to imbibe knowledge. The process of upliftment is slow; it would take generations for rural children to overcome their circumstances. My time at Agastya also taught me a lot about myself and will always stay with me for Life!