When the looming question of “what next” came to mind, Mohammad Nidhal found his answers in a school tucked away in a remote Rajasthani village.
Penning down a personal experience is a tough task when you are not a gifted writer. But, I would be doing injustice to the experience if I failed to reach a wider audience. And it’s all about hope — hope for a better tomorrow, a better year and a better life.
Let me take you to the beginning.
In the early days of June, the looming question of “what next” came to mind – a kind of a pre-midlife crisis. I know I couldn’t always be indulging in a biryani from Nizamudin or an Afghani chicken from Karim’s. Life was giving me lemons and expecting me to make strawberry shakes out of it. But I had to go on, though it tried to pull me down with unexpected twists and turns just to make me tough for the next battle.
At this point, I felt extremely fortunate to get to know about Pravah ICS, a volunteering program in which young people from both the UK and India work in a rural community for three months.
Having failed to impress university interview boards, I wanted to spend the gap year doing something deeply meaningful – something challenging and interesting.
And I knew I’d found the right answer in Pravah ICS.
The interview and pre-placement training was over in a flash. Then came the fundraising phase. All of us were given a target of Rs. 5,000 – money that goes straight back into the smooth functioning of the program and the support it provides. When I started the hunt for money, people constantly questioned me, “Why are you doing this?” A fair question, since I was volunteering while I could possibly work and earn some money. I answered by telling them the intentions behind this and received some donations, only falling short of the target by Rs. 50. Yet, I was very proud of having collected a good amount of money.
The day we all were looking forward to soon arrived. Our team met as strangers on September 15, at the green lush campus of Sanskriti Kendra in South Delhi. Despite the differences in language and culture, there was something connecting us all. We all had the zeal to give something back to society. We all wanted to improve as human beings and that was enough to make the next three months worth living.
We had an In-Country Orientation until September 19 and we left for the villages the morning after. Throughout the journey from Delhi to Kishangarh, I was dreaming about the wonderful days to follow.
Our host organisation Manthan has a scenic beauty all of its own. Located in-between big trees and a pond, you have all the room to get lost in thought there. What I liked about Manthan was it had no extravagances of a famous organisation. No matter who you are, everyone slept on the floor because no ideas were bad and it could come from anyone.
We were immersed in equality in its purest form. After three days of In-Community Orientation we were split into two teams. I was placed with seven other volunteers in a village called Jakholai, about 100 km away from the district of Ajmer in Rajasthan.
The village has almost 200 households and a government school that teaches roughly 150 students.
Certainly, village life was a bit challenging in the beginning as it was a completely different surrounding for all of us. But we took no time at all to embrace the culture and people as we started working on different projects in the field of Education, Health and Civic Participation.
First couple of days in the village were mainly spent visiting families and drinking tea, raising our sugar levels to an all-time high! In the second week, four of us started teaching English in the school. It was no different from any other rural government school in India. It had 8 teachers who seemed to take turns for work every day. Children were sitting on the floor with absolutely no furniture and the only toilet in the school was in a sorry state with no water. Interestingly, the head teacher turned up only four times during our stay in the village.
Nevertheless, we soon became friendly figures in the school, building a good relationship with the teachers and students. I’d personally never thought of teaching but it was becoming a reality. Though I was shy in the beginning to sing songs and dance, I slowly started becoming one among them. In fact, I learnt to be confident – I learnt to motivate the slightly uninterested students and I learnt to bring positive energy into a room among many other things.
For the students, they were not merely English lessons, but a tool to fight in life. It resulted in a more confident and initiative-taking attitude in them.
It still makes me proud thinking about Monica’s face when she learnt to write her name.
The joy was elevated even more when one day, being a rare visitor in the school, the headmaster was sceptical about the work we were doing. He barged into our classroom and started asking questions to students in broken English – much to our surprise, the students replied to him in much better English than his. That was the motivation we needed to keep doing what we were doing.
Meanwhile, our health team was working wonders with the adolescent girls and women in the village with their interventions on menstrual and general health. It was a very shocking for them to know about the child marriage rate in the village, but by their constant effort, they were also able to set up a chain with the local organisation Manthan and the parents of child brides who agreed to send their girls for further studies.
From my experience, there is no doubt that the benefits of volunteering are enormous. I was able to develop new skills, combat my own stress, expand my network and more importantly, it gave me a sense of fulfilment. In the beginning, my intention behind this was to improve my language skills, travel, and also to make some friends abroad. But as days passed, it turned out to be something that changed my life forever.
When I look back at it now, I realise how important it was to have instilled confidence in the youth for taking charge of their own life. How impactful a small plastic recycling project we did was, how good it was to have helped the villagers to avail the government social welfare schemes, among many other things. I realised that even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. Since then, I have become a ‘Yes Man’ because the world needs more motivators.
I’m pretty sure if ICS didn’t happen to me, I wouldn’t be the person I am now.
I have learnt many life lessons through volunteering. By helping others, I felt needed in society. Not only did it boost my self-esteem, it also let others benefit from it. Volunteering will be a great opportunity to improve you, others, and society in general.
With nothing to lose and so much to learn, Pravah ICS offers a guiding hand, leading you towards a better life, a conscious mind and a compassionate, cohesive world.
While writing this now, I wonder if I would have taken action at home alone if I didn’t have the courage and motivation that Pravah ICS gave me.
With the help of my former school, a youth-led organisation and many individuals, I have collected around 1,000 pairs of clothes for refugees in India, which would soon be delivered to them. Since I always wanted to do something for them other than the mere ‘Likes and Shares’ on social media, I feel so happy to have done this.
If any of you’re wondering how to apply for this wonderful opportunity, please drop me a message or apply at pravahics.wordpress.com/apply.
(Mohammad Nidhal volunteered with Pravah ICS from September – December 2016 and was placed with partner organisation Manthan in district Ajmer)