Rural-urban divide transcended by dedicated student group

In 2010, when Ladakh was hit by flash floods that killed over 600 people and left many stranded, some students of a school in Gurgaon sprung into action, and with help from their teachers, identified schools that had been destroyed or half-submerged by the floods. Plans were made, donations collected and Mission Julley emerged as a new form of school-initiated social work. Age is no deterrent when it comes to making a difference to your neighbourhood, and Chennai is not far behind in this regard.

IIT-Madras has a group of twenty students under ‘IViL' (IITs for Villages) who visit neighbouring villages once a month to analyse problems and figure out solutions. An offshoot of IViL, is ‘ignited minds', which attempts to acquaint students from urban schools with the problems that plague villages.

The approach that these IIT students follow to engage younger students is entertaining but scientific, filled with activities and simple analyses of different problems, whether it is a contaminated water tank, or a school with no teachers.

A question put to some fifty schoolchildren in their session at IIT-Madras: “How many of you have been to a village?” – sets the ball rolling for the interaction. Amid loud claims of how green and beautiful villages are, surface hushed whispers: “It is very difficult getting to my village. The roads are so bad,” or “It is dirtier than the city. There are only a few toilets and those are outside houses and never cleaned.”

“Why does everyone say biomass is in villages, I have never seen a plant in my village,” is one little girl's response, while Aishwarya V., a class IX student says, “I do not know much about my village because it has no lodging facilities. We just drive there, visit the temple and quickly come back.”

But it is not just the stereotypical village problems that these students are concerned with. For instance, Aruna and Raman, both school students, wonder how civic bodies would react in the event of an outbreak of a disease in a village. The questions are endless, and range from whether power cuts are ruining the small-scale industry and if imports are causing greater damage.

As an attempt to answer some of their questions and make the children think harder, members of IViL, adapted the ‘tragedy of commons' to the situation in coastal villages, to show how individuals, acting independently, brought about the depletion of a shared limited resource. “Would increasing the number of fishermen be of any help if the number of fish remain the same or even decline,” pondered the students, as IViL members talked about their experiences of handling development issues and the importance of inter-dependency. “We are trying to tell them that competition might not be good in the long run, as we need to collaborate to create,” said Yashasvini Rajeshwar, a student of IIT-M, associated with Ignited Minds.

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