A few whole-hearted, sincere and energetic men and women can do more in a year than a mob in a century. -Swami Vivekananda
They've been doing their work quietly, so quietly that there is a good chance that only a few people at IIT Bombay know that the GRA (Group for Rural Activities) is teaching unprivileged slum students in the institute.
The group was started in 1987 by alumnus Shirish Kedare and since then, the group has been involved in numerous activities. Currently, the group has about 40 active members including some girls too. Their initiatives include ‘Teach Me’, in which students from Phulenagar slum (next to Y Gate) come to NCC grounds and GRA volunteers help them in their regular studies. The group conducts aptitude quizzes, G.K. quizzes and science experiments and help nurture curiosity among the school students. These students don’t really have a good studying environment at home and hence their dropout rate is also high. To tackle this problem, GRA came up with Abhyasika (which has been running for the last eight years) in which GRA volunteers visit the slums from Monday through Friday in the evening, and help the students (classes 5th to 9th) with their daily homework.
However, the main aim of the group is to create enthusiasm among students for the nation. After every semester, GRA conducts camps for IIT students in villages where an NGO has brought out creative solutions to rural problems. The camp is also a good opportunity to know about rural India. Last year, a winter camp was organised in Melghat near Amravati. It gave me an opportunity to see innovative projects like Sampoorna Bamboo Kendra, which provides employment opportunities for the villagers based on locally available bamboo, and an innovative schooling system which runs on a minimal budget of Rs 50 day and effectively imparts functional literacy in rural and tribal students in the remotest areas. The group also conducts talks by various individuals to understand the new problems faced by the country and their solutions. Dr Anil Gupta, a renowned professor of IIMA who created a network to provide rural employment based on locally available resources, recently had a personal interaction with the volunteers.
GRA prefers to maintain a low profile. In the group everybody is an OC (nothing is ever a single person’s decision). Every new social initiative is appreciated; for e.g. last year, GRA volunteers managed to collect close to 40 cycles from ex-students, got them repaired and then donated them to school-going tribal children (who like us, don’t have the luxury of small distances or tum-tums).
A few years ago, in a public address, our revered ex-President Dr Abdul Kalam expressed a vision that, “Every IITian should adopt one village in the country.” It reminded me of the movie Swades. I was happy to find out that keeping this bigger vision in mind, our alumni made a small beginning by opening up a Village Knowledge Center in a village near Bangalore (source: iitbombay.org). Also, nowadays big corporations are coming up with innovative business plans which help rural development and simultaneously make profit (source: Prof. Ashish Pandey). Being a part of the group helped me realize that the real challenge before developing India is creating innovative rural technologies, something neglected by the government but supported by a large number of NGOs. The country can’t prosper without rural development. We are now realizing the mistake we made by adopting chemicals in farming which is not a sustainable option. GRA gave me the opportunity to understand the gravity of this problem. I was exposed to all the good work done by social workers in the country.
Being a part of the group helped me realise that the real challenge before developing India is creating innovative rural technologies, something neglected by the government but supported by a large number of NGOs.