The joy in the eyes of 5-year old Anjali was apparent as she gladly received her present of books and colour pencils from us. Although she was too awestruck to even say ‘thank you’, but that was immaterial for us as we knew that this gesture of ours was making a difference to Anjali and other students of this school in the vicinity of a valley located in Uttarakhand, where there are about 100 odd students who come to study everyday from half a dozen villages around.
It was a call from our native village which we could not ignore and planned to visit there after almost 25 years. Though we have succeeded in our own professions after coming and settling down in different metros, but the state of our own villages remained as it was two decades back. Quite obviously, children after having spent their childhood and adolescence in villages tend to move towards cities in search of livelihood, as we did. In the process we abandon our rich cultural heritage that gradually fades out with time.
Although we first thought of our visit as a trip memory-down-the-lane, but for a brilliant suggestion from Deepak, Arun, Archana and Sarita we wisely took a decision to make it a meaningful one by giving something back to our village. First Step Foundation supported our venture and termed our group as ‘Team Kafna’. We sat out our journey to our native village in Uttarakhand and named it as ‘Chalo Gao ki Or’.
The nostalgia was beyond comparison. We could feel the typical aroma in the air, the warmth of sunshine, and a peculiar sense of belonging to the soil under our feet. But at the same time, we were a little sad seeing the dilapidated conditions of houses which somewhat resembled the wrinkles on the faces of elder people in the villages. Lack of basic amenities and facilities had clearly taken a toll on the entire lifestyle of the villagers.
We visited the school where we studied in our childhood. Though as a development the classrooms, which in our times were just about walls, a tin roof and a mat on which we used to sit and study, now had benches. Children greeted us happily and were amused to see city-dwellers amongst them. We distributed sweets, books, copies, colours and other stationery items to these children and in return got smiles and happiness on their faces which was our reward.
Incidentally, we were in our village on the day when Diwali is celebrated there. So in the evening, we decided to celebrate Diwali in our village, in our own traditional way that we used to celebrate in our childhood. It was ironical that the rituals were something unseen for those children. This is what we think we take away when we move out from villages to cities. We cannot let our culture and traditions die. We must leave enough traces for the generations to come who could take our traditional belongings further and ensure that the cultural heritage does not die at any cost.
Then on the final day of our visit, we distributed LED lights to about 200 houses in and around half a dozen villages in the vicinity. The ultra-modern source of lights instantly caught the attention of villagers and their eyes seemed glittering in joy more than those lights. Procured from ‘Biglite’ and sponsored by First Step Foundation, these LED lights will now be a better source of light in the houses of these villages for years to come.
We were returning with a sense of satisfaction, that however little it was, we were able to give something back to our villages. It will be great if people like us who have settled in cities can back to their native villages from time to time and replicate our initiative of giving something back to the villages.
This was the beginning and we pledged to carry it on in times to come, to keep doing something for the betterment of villages and underprivileged villagers.
A special thanks to First Step Foundation which also has plans to extend scholarships to the children in our and other Villages in Uttarakhand, besides setting up medical camps from time to time to provide medical facilities to the villagers. We are sure that with support from the corporate world, endeavours like this by First Step Foundation will be better and more useful for a greater number of people in future.