When we think of role models, rarely do we think in terms of the common man. It is always some celebrity or star or expert that we think of and aspire to emulate and become. But, as we have learnt over the last few weeks, there are numerous men and women in this country who work ceaselessly, away from the dizzying lime lights of fame and glory. Rather, suffice it to say that these men and women are quite happy to do their duties that befit their positions and context, they find themselves in. They are worthy of emulation because of the commitment and sincerity with which they go about performing those duties. This is a post about one such person – Ravi, the headmaster of the Government high school in the village of Vengampakkam, around 10 kms from Mahabalipuram and close to our institute’s campus. We have learnt a lot just by observing him in action.
The Karma Yoga program built into our schedules here, not only provides an opportunity to work at the grassroots level in the villages around our institute, but also gives us an opportunity to empower these villagers in ways that we can. When the village of Vengampakkam was assigned to us, we wasted no time in deciding to visit the school and learning what the students might require of us. The very first time, we met Ravi, it was evident that he was not somebody who is a stereotypical Government servant, one who basks in the security of his job and hardly bothers with anything else. He immediately sensed that we can help the students of class 8 and 9 with the basics of computer education. He led us to a locked room where many systems were lying unused and explained that the school does not have computer literate teachers to make use of them.
We devised a plan to teach Office Software to the students. Mr. Ravi made sure that the best students of class 8 and 9 get to learn from us. We realized the sincerity of his intention and made every effort to make the students understand, starting from the very beginning. After 2-3 sessions, Ravi wanted to learn how to operate the laptop he had. The Government, contrary to what we might believe, has provided these schools with a laptop each. We taught him how he can make use of technology to carry out day-day activities of the school like tracking teacher and student records. His eagerness to learn something entirely new and master it completely is a lesson in itself.
On one of our visits, he spoke to us at length on some of the proposals that we had for the village. We learnt that, instead of expecting something we preconceive, we need to first assess the exact state of affairs that was prevailing. The school for example, neither has adequate number of teachers nor has enough space to accommodate all the students in classrooms. Some of the students, as a result, learn algebra and physics sitting in the tree shade. The compound wall of the school is not complete, neither is there a proper gate. The students do not have proper sanitation facilities. They do not even have the access to clean drinking water. One would assume that in this kind of an environment, there is hardly any motivation to make things happen. Yet, strong willed men and women don’t need cozy offices and furnished spaces to effect change. We wanted to plant saplings around the school building. We wanted his help to spread word among the students’ parents about the availability of expert guidance from MS Swaminathan research center (in Chennai) on matters concerning agriculture and cattle rearing. He lent a patient ear to all of these and gave his valuable inputs. Hence, It is the intention to effect change and the sincerity of purpose that ultimately matters!
Mr. Ravi told us that the students should get motivated by seeing us, talking to us and learning from us. He asked us to teach the students only in English (even though the school follows Tamil as medium of instruction) so that they make every effort to understand what we speak. So, we taught these students computers, algebra, physics, poetry and General Knowledge in simple English. We counseled the students on the career options available to them after higher secondary. Seeing their eagerness to learn, we felt glad. Mr. Ravi assigned a teacher to every class we taught in, so that she gets to observe us, as we teach and later incorporate some of it into her own style when she engages the students in English. He also briefed us on how he has to rely on PTAs (Parent Teacher associations) for each and every approval. He spoke about the mindset of the students as they progress to give their board examinations and the school’s results. He shared his intention to instill in every student, the spark necessary to continue his/her education after passing out from the school. As he spoke to some of the students, we could see that he was being a disciplinarian and a father figure at the same time. Inspecting the mid day meal, he showed us what the students have for lunch. He is a man on a mission, not that of changing the face of a large corporation or a huge country overnight, but that of laying the foundation stones for a section of people to slowly progress – people, to whom, a decent existence is still an ideal.
Our country needs men and women of the mettle of Mr. Ravi, people who are unfazed by the difficulties that stare them in the face and who don’t care for any reward and recognition. The only thing that matters to them is how they can improve the lives of the people around them in whatever small measures they can! They are well and truly, our nation’s silent foot soldiers.
– Sivaraman Natarajan