Abhigya Shukla is putting smiles on the faces of kids in Ladakh, writes Nithya Sivashankar

In August 2005, Abhigya Shukla, an Ahmedabad-based educator, visited Ladakh to volunteer at the Likir Monastery School. She designed modules that helped the children learn English through activities involving listening, speaking, reading and writing. When she discovered that the young monks in the school were eager to learn and showed tremendous potential, Abhigya decided to stay on for two more months.

She visited monastery schools and neglected Government schools in the Nubra Valley, Zanskar and those along the Indo-Pakistan border.

Today, through her initiative ‘Friends of Likir' (FoL), Abhigya supports institutions in those areas. FoL, says Abhigya, is an effort to nurture and educate children in the isolated villages of Ladakh.

Abhigya studied design and child psychology. She now teaches and designs clothes. She has a clothing label, ‘tira mi su' and owns a studio in Ahmedabad. “I became an educator quite accidentally,” she says. “I was working as a teacher at Mahatma Gandhi International School in Ahmedabad. I began designing learning modules for children then.”

When she returned from Ladakh in 2005, she had made up her mind to go back to the monasteries to teach the children. She did go back in 2009, and visited around 15 monasteries. She says, “I interviewed monks, both young and old, for a small documentary project. I got an insight into their lives. I spent a lot of time with the child monks and observed their routine. I spoke to their teachers and even handled a couple of classes for the children.”

In 2011, she began work on her initiative, ‘Friends of Likir'. She says FoL is a personal initiative. “I want to reach out to neglected children, utilise my teaching skills and give my time to a place and its kids,” she says. “The boys I interacted with come from extremely poor families that reside in the remote regions of Ladakh. They say it was a tradition in Buddhist families to give up one son to the monastery. These days it is usually a family which cannot afford to either educate or feed their children that sends the boys to monasteries.”

Abhigya is raising funds for children's books, stationery, art supplies and educational toys. The FoL page on Facebook is garnering followers who are eager to donate.

“I have had a lot of well-wishers, some of them complete strangers, coming forth to help me in small ways through Facebook. Most of these people want to just see a child smile. I ensure that I take a lot of pictures of these children and send them to those who support this initiative,” says Abhigya. She adds that FoL is a good way for “people like us to connect with another part of our country, which we might know very little about.” She plans to spend half a year in Ladakh with the children and the remaining six months in other cities, seeking support for her cause. “Currently, I am trying to collect books for 10 schools. I'm trying to create child-friendly reading spaces in existing school environments. Publishers such as Pratham Books, Tulika and Katha have also sent us books at discounted prices,” she says.

Abhigya loves Ladakh. “I love the solitude and simplicity of these mountains. When you see the people, the hard lives they lead and their smiles, it is overwhelming. They have told me that they want nothing more than an education for their children.”

Be a pal

‘Friends of Likir’ educates children in schools in Ladakh, Indo-Pak and Indo-China borders. People interested in donating children’s books, stationery, educational games and toys, sports equipment, and health supplies can write to friendsoflikir@gmail.com. Donations for sponsoring a child or a school library are welcome. The team is also on the lookout for volunteers with or without prior teaching experience to work with the children. For details, visit www.facebook.com/friendsoflikir.