Dedication in pursuit of Happiness : A case study : Utsarga

“ …...All men are created equal….. with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’ says the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America” read out Ms Khan. She paused for a breath and looked for reaction. Looking down intently at the faces of the thirty children seated before her on comfortable chairs, behind spotless desks, dressed immaculately, she asked “To what extent do you feel that this quote holds true, in today’s society?To what extent is equality prevalent in today’s society?”

The class remained silent.Taking this as a cue of discomfort at the prospect of facing an ugly, old truth we always try to shield ourselves from, she continued, ‘If you think the answer is not true what are you doing to change it?’.The silence grew colder, as we squirmed with guilt and discomfort.

Indeed, we say that all men are created equal. But, right from the moment of birth, we are divided. Divided by virtue of the different rungs of society we belong to, the wealth we own and the different families we are born into. In this respect, for no fault of ours some of us are fortunate, and others, less fortunate - some are happy, others less so. I think, that biggest source of today’s inequality, is not because of difference in colour, gender, or caste. It is because of the economic divide which is resulting in an acute form of digital divide(as most economic opportunities in the future will come from the digital world ). But is it not our duty, as responsible citizens of the world, to help one another receive equal opportunities? Will that not lead to make the world a happier place? The only way, we can achieve this goal and transform this dream into reality is by creating awareness and educating one another. And this is why the concept of ‘each one, teach one’ appeals to me so much. This idea was the driving force which made me want to make a change. Therefore I approached Utsarga which has a similar motto.

Utsarga (the word means “ dedication” in Bengali) is a ‘school before a school’. The students of this group come from economically disadvantaged families. This is often the first generation who have exposure to education. They have no one to approach if them need extra help with their school work. And this is where Utsarga comes in. Early everyday, the students arrive at this modest 2 -room “school” where they are taught, and brought up to level with their school work. After two hours of work, they leave for school with their stomach filled with a healthy snack. The modest ambiance in which they study was a drastic contrast to the school rooms i had seen before. It made me wish I could do more for them.

Utsarga belongs to my family, and though I had heard of it, I had never made an attempt to visit the place, till my father took me. Despite the limited time I spent amidst the school children, the experience and the learning was vast and fulfilling. I took pleasure in sitting with them, teaching them Math in Hindi and Bengali, (ie, languages I am not very well versed with). The cheerful disposition of the children, their high spirits, their exuberance towards work was something which took me by surprise. These children WANTED to learn. These children WANTED to know more. Most of the children were very bright, with an aptitude towards the subjects they were learning, quickly grasping onto the topics I taught them. However, most were blissfully unaware of the wildfire of knowledge, spreading all around them, simply because they had no one who could expose them to such things. Many were not well versed with the usage of technology which is such an integral part of our lives today, and did not in fact, know of the existence of ‘google’!

This leads me to my most important argument. The statistics are simple. India has a vast population of 1.2 billion, with an annual population growth rate of 1.2%. Of this, 4% of our children never start school. 58% don’t complete primary schools. And 90% don’t complete high school(Teach for India) . Many families are now taking the initiative to try to create a change, by sending their children to school irrespective of how hard it for them to make both ends meet. It is on our part to ensure that their hard earned money is used effectively. The number of children Utsarga caters to has increased manifold, from merely six children to thirty five. The space where they study in, has however not increased. These are the realities of India. Too many students vie for very little space - whether real or metaphorical.

Utsarga calls out to you- to all of you. It calls out to the privileged school children, to working people, to the retired and elderly. The idea is take this noble cause to a higher level and multiply it manifold. Spending two hours with these children may not seem to be a great deal for you, but it could change the lives of these children and give them a new perspective of careers they can take up. Nelson Mandela once said that, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world’. I could not agree more.


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