Most 10-year-olds worry about school homework, the latest toys and gadgets they want, etc. Meet a young lady who decided to take charge of the education of the poor children in her village at the tender age of 10.
Often, we all seem to be stuck in time, like flies in amber, unable to move or act because of the circumstances around us. Then occasionally, there rises among us one such spirited human who has the energy and initiative to pull us out. Sunitha, from Abbigirihosahalli, Bangarpet, is such a girl who is helping her community come out of the time-trap they are stuck in.
10-year-old Sunitha felt the merriness, joy, and cheer at the village festival. A time for rejoicing, a time away from school – that’s what most children would think. But for Sunitha, something was amiss. She saw the village head discriminating between the rich and the poor children. How you were clothed mattered to him. “This isn’t right,” she thought, “First you are poor, and then you are loved less. Shouldn’t important people like the village head be the first to treat poor nicely? How is it a child’s fault that she or he is poor? What can I do to love the poor children in the village? I go to school and they don’t. I can share what I learn at school with them.”
An intelligent and sharp child, Sunitha started teaching poor children in her community when she was 10 years old. A child herself, she still had the maturity needed to engage the children. Sunitha taught her students how to respect others and how to lead a meaningful life.
Soon, the children in the community started attending Sunitha’s classes regularly.
Ten years down the road, Sunitha had 150 students at her community education center. The programs were run at the local government school. Sunitha now also had support in the running of the center. She says, “My friends Mani, Murli, Shoba, and Praveen helped me set up the center. Stephen used to come and talk with our students and get us teachers. Whenever possible, dance teachers and others came and taught our children.” Mani is responsible for activities and assignments at the center, while Murli teaches the children morals, neatness, discipline and respect. Shobha teaches the Grade 1 to 5 children, and Praveen teaches mathematics at the center. Stephen is the pillar of the center. He focuses on facilities and provisions for the handicapped in the community, and also raises funds for the group and vets their activities.
Speaking about her centre Sunitha says, “There are very few people who are educated in my village. My parents helped me to study further, but that was not the case with most children. Most don’t have enough money to go to school. I don’t want a single uneducated person in my village.”
Working in a striking and original way, Sunitha took the initiative of cleaning her village, and even organised Cultural Nights for the aged.
Casteism, the age-old malaise, persisted in varying degrees in Abbigirihosahalli. Sunitha, a firm advocate of equality, used the occasion of Rakshabandhan to get people from different castes to tie rakhis to each other. She even arranged for rations and undertook clothing distribution drives. Once, after attending a yoga camp by the NGO Shade, she encouraged everyone in the community to take up the practice. She adds, “We set up a biweekly forum for people to come together and express whatever they want to talk about, be it worries, happiness, or anything that matters.”
So many initiatives by a young girl! Her path was laden with scorn, discouragement, and obstacles, but she remained undaunted. Through sheer determination, she has articulated and achieved what many would call impossible. Sunitha’s intent also met with good friends, support from the village leaders, and help from some organisations. Sunitha’s family was also supportive. She says, “My family consists of five members. My father is the village secretary and my mother takes care of cattle.”
“They gave me the freedom which most parents don’t. They taught me to stand on my own two feet.”
Sunitha’s life is about teaching and learning. Learning is very important here, because as she learns her pupils learn. When she first heard of the Gurukul by The/Nudge Foundation, Sunitha saw another opportunity to learn something valuable that she could pass on to her pupils. At the Gurukul, Sunitha was in for a surprise. As she attended the life skills and livelihood skills classes, Sunitha understood the importance of employment-focused training with a mindset to build a career, a very important factor in pulling someone out of poverty.
Of her future after the Gurukul, Sunitha says, “I hope to, someday, have my own place where I can have employability-building classes. I want to motivate and help girls in my community learn and stand on their own legs.”
She is, as you may expect, wise, considerate and energetic. Sunitha’s experiences and insights are valuable for anyone attempting change in rural India. She acts out of a deep desire to help others and live for others. Asked about what she thinks is the most essential value in life, Sunitha says, “Everyone should have kindness; if everyone has that, everything else will come automatically.”
There are hundreds of students like Sunitha at The/Nudge Foundation’s Gurukul. Want to send a positive message to them? They’ll love it!