Interning with the 17,000 ft Foundation in Leh gave Yashasvini Rajeshwar a real-life exposure that took her beyond classroom learning.

For most students of the humanities and social sciences, classroom experiences are restricted to theory. We learn of Marx and Weber, Durkheim and Spencer. We hear of policy frameworks and their subsequent changes, legal battles and their expected repercussions. We discuss how the world was and is, as we know it, today. We argue over how we think it will be, or at the very least, how it should be. Yet, for students whose education is focused on the lives of people differentiated by geography or history, practical application of all our debates is often sorely lacking. We rarely go out into the “field” and our discussions are often limited by our assumptions of how the world works.

Widening horizons

It is to bridge this gap that some of us turn to internships that are “field work intensive”, travelling to various parts of the country to work with communities and neighbourhoods that were thus far merely dots on a map. It was to fulfil this goal that I found myself in Himachal and Ladakh for about seven weeks over the summer. Whether it is a workshop with students from around the country or a volunteership with an organisation, for me working in rural Ladakh, was enriching, and I gained new perspectives.

Sambhaavnaa, an organisation based in the village of Kandbari in Himachal Pradesh, is a platform “for action and discussion of possibilities in policy and politics.” They conduct various workshops in an effort to reach out to the youth and pick their brains, forcing them to think of the world around them and what could be done to improve the social fabric we live in. For eight days, 25 of us congregated to participate in a programme titled “Rethinking Development”, taking part in lively discussions and debates while also attending lecture sessions that gave us the necessary historical and political knowledge to make informed arguments. With the participation being evenly divided between applicants from large universities around the country as well as representatives of various NGOs, much of the learning came from mere interaction, understanding how our lives could be so different from each other’s and yet, how our dreams could be so similar. With the ambitious goal of strengthening democracy in India, the minds behind Sambhaavnaa have broken this gargantuan task down into more manageable chunks, beginning by moulding future leaders and empowering the common man to claim his rightful place in participatory politics.

Above the world

A week of reinforcing my theory and I was set to move further up north, into the state of Jammu and Kashmir. With five weeks of rural field trips to look forward to, I made my way up the mountains to finally land in Leh, at an altitude of approximately 11,000-odd feet above sea level. The organisation I worked with, 17000 ft Foundation, works on improving the quality of education in remote areas of Ladakh. One of their methods to achieve this is through providing schools with functional libraries — basic, but well-stocked and easily manageable. For five weeks, we travelled to over a dozen government schools, physically setting up the racks, speaking to the teachers about the importance of libraries and conducting various activities with the children to tickle their curiosity about books and reading. The foundation itself has a multi-pronged approach to the problem and also works with providing schools with basic infrastructure and playgrounds for the children, apart from conducting regular teacher training workshops in Leh city. Art programmes and science programmes have been devised and are given to volunteers who are looking to spend only a few days on the job. This way, not only do the volunteers get the Ladakhi experience but the children are exposed to the outside world as well. Perhaps the largest take-away from the trip was the culture — the generosity, the hospitality, the personal connect with which the locals greeted us with and their true gratitude for any help that came their way. It is not always possible to spend as much time as we would like doing projects such as these. Yet, it struck me as important to understand that if we do have the time and the interest, there are many out there who could use the support. With only seven weeks to spare, I managed to supplement my education, met amazing people and worked in an area that enthused me.

Yashasvini is a student of Humanities at IITM.