21.04.2010

Preeyanka Shah: Energy Self Sufficiency

Progress Reports

Mid-Year Public Progress Report

Saked, Madhya Pradesh

A native of Massachusetts, Preeyanka Shah graduated from Duke University in 2009 with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Preeyanka is partnered with the Adharshila Learning Center in Madhya Pradesh. She currently is involved in a variety of educational and environmental initiatives, while also focusing on increasing rural India’s access to written materials.

NGO & Community Background

The Adharshila Learning Centre (Adharshila Shiksha Kendra), is an NGO located in the Barwani District in Madhya Pradesh.  Adharshila Learning Centre was established twelve years ago by Amit and Jayshree Bhatnagar as a boarding school designed for the Adivasi (indigenous tribal) people of southwestern Madhya Pradesh.

Although it is an educational centre, it seeks to approach all areas from education, health, nutrition, creativity, water conservation, environment and more.  The school’s philosophy is inspired by Paolo Friere, Gandhi’s Nai Talim and other people-centric educational views.  The school’s philosophy is that education should not be an exercise in teacher’s drilling information into a student’s heads, but rather based on an interactive relationship between individuals constantly adapting to the needs of the community.  At Adharshila, everyone is both a teacher and a student.  In practice, Adharshila’s model strives to make its education relevant to the students’ lives and community.  Beyond basic core subjects, the students partake in a variety of activities including dance, music and crafts all based around their community.

Adharshila has a six acre plot of land on which the Adharshila community practices organic farming.  Through working in the field, students learn about sustainable, environmentally-friendly, chemical-free farming practices.  In addition, growing vegetables for the school mess serves as a way to approach the issue of nutrition in a meaningful way.

The students take ownership of every aspect of their school from the mess to the electricity to ensuring there is enough water for the school every day.  Everyday the entire school (both students and staff) participate in an hour of Shramdan (donation of labor) to work in the fields.

Project Vision

I came to Adharshila assigned to an Energy Self-Sufficiency project which involved improving the campus’s natural resource and electricity utilization while also teaching classes such as social science, craft and science.

However, since arriving at Adharshila, it became quickly apparent that energy self-sufficiency was not a pressing need at the school. Since coming to the school, I have become the middle school English teacher.  Although the role can be challenging at times, especially coming in with a preconceived notion based on my project description, I have found myself filling a necessary role in my school and for many of my students who have aspirations of higher education.  Beyond English, I am striving to challenge students to think on their own and not depend on the teacher to write the answers.  My goal is to provide an interactive learning environment through English class that will go beyond the language.  In addition, I am striving to document the lessons so they may be re-used in the future.

Beyond English teaching, I have contributed to a school energy project culminating in the students designing miniature chulhas out of clay, being heavily involved in a fund-raiser for the students’ annual trip, reintroducing Ultimate Frisbee to the school and the surrounding village, and experimenting in the village.

In addition, I have also been going to the village to spend time with children and interacting with their families.  While sending children to Adharshila represents some investment in education, many students in the village are not able to attend school on a full-time basis.  I’ve initiated some conversations about education with Sakad community members but I’d like to create even more dialogue on the value of education and push for more parental involvement in their children’s education.

One of my favorite times of the day is the informal reading and story-telling hour I have with the children at Adharshila.  Originating as a means for me to practice my Hindi skills, it has since then expanded to an event that happens regularly; many times someone else remembers “story hour” before I do.  What makes it so wonderful is that it is a collective experience driven by everyone involved.

Project Implementation Progress and Future Plans

Regarding my project as it progresses, I envision it more as a series of streams rather than a single project.  I look to continue present activities at Adharshila, become involved in new ones as they arise, and expand the informal activities I have started.  I will continue teaching English until the end of the school year in April.  I hope to go further in the fields of literacy, creative education and informal education through paths I have already initiated.

With the children and families with whom I’ve developed a relationship with Sakad, I’d like to push the meaning and value of education beyond what is currently present.  I plan to increase the time I spend in the village each week going beyond reading, crafts and sports to other topics, as well as initiate more conversations about the value and relevance of education within the community.

Personal Growth

I originally chose to serve as an Indicorps fellow for two reasons: to spend more time in India and to do service for a year.  This year, as an Indicorps fellow, I have become more observant, more conscious of myself and my surroundings.

This year has been new experience after new experience.  Straight from college, being in Sakad, a small village has introduced a completely different pace of life.  I’ve become better at being ok with uncertainty even if it still makes me uncomfortable.  In the past, I used to avoid things I didn’t like.  This year, I’ve found myself pushing myself through things I don’t like, finding ways to improve how I look at them, and becoming better at staying calm when small things don’t turn out right.  I’ve also focused on taking more self-initiative rather than depending on guidance from an organization.  It’s easy to make excuses for not doing something but going beyond that is something I’ve been able to improve this year.  One of the ideas that I have found inspirational yet challenging is the idea of coming from an unconditional space of love even when things are frustrating.  Although I am happy to be me, the path to who I want to be is a lifelong journey.  Knowing that I am supported by my family, the Indicorps family and my friends in this lifelong journey to make my life my message, is empowering.

This year has made me think more about living in the present and taking each day at a time.  At this point in my life, I feel liberated to do whatever I want to do without any real obligation to anything, something that so many people in the world are unable to do.  Knowing this, I feel strongly that I should take advantage of this rare gift.  I have the ability to make choices and if I’m not making ones that make me happy, I’m wasting this gift.  I’ve decided to stay in India after this year, although I’m not sure in what capacity.

Preeyanka Shah, August 2009 Indicorps Fellow

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