Gyan Setu is a volunteering program organised by the Educational Activity Research Center (EARC) of Jnana Prabodhini, Pune. They are working towards a dual goal of imparting basic science education to children in the fringe states of our country and developing a feeling of national integration among volunteers by means of what they call ‘joyful and hands-on science workshops’. Having entered its second year, Gyan Setu has expanded its reach to eight states of India, namely Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jammu & Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Nagaland, Odisha, Jharkhand and Sikkim, which is a step up from the four states they were functional in last year.
The way it works is simple. Volunteers register on Gyan Setu’s website and select one of the above eight states and suitable dates. Teams of three are then formed and volunteers undergo orientation where they are taught to teach science using simple and practical props and techniques. Volunteers then travel to the place they’ve chosen and conduct workshops for children in multiple government as well as private schools for a week. Some volunteers choose to go for longer and some even tie it up with some sightseeing. The experience is extremely rewarding for students and volunteers alike. Students gain a lot from these workshops, as most of them are isolated in an educational sense. Their teachers hail from the same places as them and hence have come through the same educational system. Opportunities for them to learn something new are few and far between. Volunteers come back with a sense of pride having fuelled the curiosity of hundreds of children and having learnt about a culture and a way of life they were not too familiar with. Both I reckon feel like a part of the same India.
We spoke to Sujay Sirur, an engineer with a technology firm in Kharadi, who has been a part of the Gyan Setu initiative right since its inception.
How did you get involved with Gyan Setu and what is your role?
In 2012 a series of events in life led to my conducting science workshops in ten Vivekananda Kendra schools of Arunachal Pradesh. The 28-day trip was a fascinating, once-in-a-lifetime experience – so much so that when Gyan Setu was launched in August 2013, it was natural for me to volunteer. Today, I am coordinating content development and volunteer training of this unique program to enable others to have their own once-in-a-lifetime experience.
What has Gyan Setu accomplished since it was initiated?
Since Gyan Setu‘s inception in Aug-2013, we have enabled more than 150 volunteers to conduct more than 250 workshops in remote government and private schools, in the four states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh and Jammu & Kashmir, reaching more than 20000 students. The numbers are impressive for a program in its first year, but the real achievement is the twinkle in the student’s eyes and the satisfaction in the volunteer’s hearts.
Sounds fantastic. How do the students react?
In our typical textbook and exams driven education system, students are ever eager for hands on activities even in urban areas. For students in remote areas, the didis and bhaiyas who bring amazing toys are like angels. It is very common for an originally planned 45 minute session to extend to 2 hours, and the students still want more. In these fun-filled and engaging sessions both the students and volunteers lose sense of time, while the teachers watch spellbound. Often the sessions end with students asking “Aap phir kab ayenge?”
What about the volunteers? I’m sure they have a sense of achievement when they are back.
Despite a long and tiring journey, almost all volunteers cannot stop talking about their experiences. They are full of excitement and can’t wait to show pictures of students, schools and places they visited. I haven’t met a volunteer who said that the trip wasn’t beyond their wildest expectations. In addition to learning about the culture and lifestyle of the places they visit, volunteers also make lasting friendships with their other team members.
So eventually what does everyone at Gyan Setu want to see it become?
Gyan Setu is a bridge to connect the youth of today with that of tomorrow through knowledge exchange. This is not just a bridge across a generation but also a geographical bridge between pristine remote India and its modern urban part. It is a language and cultural bridge through the medium of hands on science activities. As the program matures, we envision Gyan Setu to become a self-sustained volunteer driven partnership between multiple stakeholders like volunteers, students, schools, local NGOs and private/corporate sponsors.
This partnership will benefit volunteers by providing them an opportunity to develop their communication and relationship building skills. It will enable them to understand and appreciate the issues faced by rural India, but most importantly build their own confidence towards a proactive approach to nation building.
In addition to developing a love towards science, the hands on workshops will help students explore their creativity, network with seniors and form science clubs.
For schools and local organizations Gyan Setu will provide a channel to tap into available but unexplored resources – knowledge, experience and material.
For private & corporate sponsors this program will offer a high impact avenue for their social responsibility initiatives.
So log on to their website (https://gyansetu-earc.in) to register or contact them at email@example.com if interested. Why shouldn’t you be!