“Have a purpose in life or else life will be of no purpose,”- a quote I truly started believing when I realised purpose was completely missing from my life. Deep in depression since 14 years of age, I started contemplating suicide, but thankfully, life had other plans for me. Coming to Jagriti Yatra in 2016 and then volunteering for it in 2017 brought me to Barefoot College and my life has found a new meaning since then.
Barefoot College (actual name – The Social Work and Research Centre) is a civil service organisation (CSO) situated in a remote village named Tilonia in Rajasthan. Started in 1972 by Sanjit ‘Bunker’ Roy, the organisation operated community-based models for rural development. Most of the people here have no formal education and yet are doing wonders for the community. Barefoot College works in 14 domains which includes water, education, health, livelihood, women empowerment, rural handicrafts, WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene), and much more. It is a family of Barefoot professionals where everybody has no paper to show their qualification to do what they are doing.
I feel I belong here. As the founder Mr Bunker Roy in his TED talk said – it is the place for “the drop-outs, cop-outs, and wash-outs.” I feel I am one among them. I have a background in commerce and management, but I have discovered my true self through social service. My parents were involved in social work, so it was a part of my upbringing. But, I had never thought I would take it up as my full-time work.
My first role as a part of the education team of Barefoot College was to co-manage the Malala Project with a local person from Tilonia. We partnered with the Malala Fund for this project which focussed on girl child education, gender sensitivity, child rights, women empowerment, and child marriage. It led me to remote villages in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttarakhand. On the one hand, these villages mesmerised me with their scenic beauty, and on the flip side, I was exposed to the darker side of India where I encountered patriarchy, misogyny and ignorance. I fought with it with all my might. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes I stumbled, but I never stopped.
The mission was to bring back dropouts to school and give adolescent girls and women a voice. My happiness knew no bounds when at the final event of the project, 80 girls spoke boldly about topics ranging from menstruation, women safety, abuse to alcoholism in front of high ranked government officials.
Through the project around 1500 girls and boys rejoined school and are continuing it. The realisation of what my team was able to achieve almost brought me to tears. I had never had the first-hand experience about what it means to struggle for basics like education.
Currently, I am looking after Shiksha Niketan, the day-school run by Barefoot College. My day is filled with laughs and cries and hugs and high-fives from more than 400 kids. This school has been a centre of excellence for more than three decades now. The children here are also exposed to gender and civic rights, STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics), sustainability and environmental education along with the regular curriculum.
The children in the school come from marginalised communities, and regular health facilities are still not affordable for them. Also, sports always takes a backseat when it comes to a choice between sports and study. When I was battling depression, my father asked me to take up any sport because he felt that it prepares a person to face the hurdles of life. I, therefore, want to open the avenues of sports for these children. I am now running a crowdfunding campaign and trying to raise money for health and sports facilities for these children. This year, despite fewer facilities, some children were able to bring accolades for the school in the district tournaments. I wish that by next year they have all the training facilities to shine in many more competitions to come.
– Krati Gahlot, Staff with Barefoot College, Rajasthan