Bridging the gap

Posted by Meetu Chawla, Thinkerminds, Kolkata

It was 28th Dec 2020 and there was collective excitement amongst a group of students from varied socio-economic backgrounds as they logged into zoom for the first session of The Knowledge Series. Mayurakshi from Calcutta International School was holding a session on human rights, along with her student mentee Ishika Kumari from Gyandeepak NGO. Mayurakshi along with 15 other teens from various schools in Kolkata has been mentoring students from this Kolkata based NGO. These 15 high schoolers are part of Samta Teen Fellowship offered by Thinkerminds.

In the middle of the lockdown in 2020, while coaching various teenagers, it was apparent that they were feeling socially isolated, and challenged by online learning, which was taking a toll on their mental health and well-being. Most were feeling listless and were spending large chunks of their time online, either gaming or on social media. I knew engaging with something meaningful would give them a sense of purpose.

On the other hand, I was mentoring students from Gyandeepak NGO, online. I got introduced to Gyandeepak in 2019, when I launched Thinking Hearts, a positive youth engagement program. The aim was to connect high schoolers from various schools to some meaningful community engagements. Gyandeepak has about 40 kids from marginalised background who are being tutored through remedial classes. The founders Priti, Suman Aunty and Sweta are doing a remarkable job by encouraging these children to learn and thrive. I along with 6 teens started spending a couple of hours at Gyandeepak on Sundays.

The teens were trained, by me, to conduct personal development sessions, storytelling, quizzes etc. with the children. Within couple of weeks, I could see a special bond being formed. The excited screams of “Didi” and “Bhaiya” were heard all the time. Those sessions abruptly came to an end in March as the lockdown started.

Very soon into the lockdown, I started personally taking online coaching sessions for these children. Considering that all my sessions at Thinkerminds had also moved online, I could spend limited time with these children. That is how the idea of having an individual teen mentor for each of these kids, was born. This would engage the high schoolers with something meaningful and also provide a support system to the children at Gyandeepak. Students from various schools in Kolkata were invited to apply for this fellowship, wherein they would be mentoring one student from Gyandeepak and also receive training sessions from Thinkerminds at no cost. Soon we got flooded with applications from high schoolers. 15 of them were shortlisted from 33 applicants. They came across as responsible and enthusiastic teens willing to contribute to the community. When they were asked “Why do you want to be part of this program?”, many replied “I want to help the underprivileged.” I would smile at these answers as I knew in my heart that they don’t know yet what they will take back from this association! And thus, began our journey in mid 2020 to create an online platform to promote equity in education.

I started with couple of training sessions with the Samta fellows, talking to the teens about finding purpose and key mentoring skills. The next step was to connect these teens to their respective mentees at Gyandeepak. Sweta and Priti from Gyandeepak had handpicked the 15 kids from their NGO to be included in this program. As I had been already spending time with Gyandeepak kids for more than a year, I knew them well. They were matched to their student mentor based on shared interests so as to facilitate rapport building. The teen mentors were to stay connected through online calls, with their mentee. In these sessions, no homework would be discussed as Gyandeepak already was providing tutoring and remedial classes to these kids.

The Samta Teen fellows were encouraged to introduce new and diverse concepts to their mentees. In the following months, we saw some valuable lessons and topics being introduced to these children. Like Mayurakshi from Calcutta International School talks about Feminism and women rights with her mentee Ishika who wants to be in the Police. Shubham from Lakshmipat Singhania Academy teaches his mentee Kailash about making workable models of machines. Deepshikha from The Heritage School talks about mental health and mindfulness to her mentee Varsha. Harshita taught Powerpoint skills to her mentee Debasis. Every review session I would get to hear stories on these exciting sessions between two students from completely different worlds.

I am proud of these 15 high schoolers who have demonstrated commitment, sincerity and innovative thinking while mentoring their respective students. Its helped them find a purpose during the Covid times. As one student Adrit from The Heritage School told me he has realised how privileged he is and his mentee definitely deserves the same opportunities as him, which he feels he doesn’t deserve!

Parthivi from Calcutta International School says “I have started believing more in myself and my skills. I have even gained insight into how kid psychology works and that listening patiently to others is very important to understand other people and deal with them positively.”

Kailash from Gyandeepak says “ When lockdown started I was sad. Through Samta mentor Shubham Bhaiya, I have found my passion of ‘electric work’. I am learning new ideas and concepts in electric and mechanical work. I want to do lifetime Samta class.” Kailash and Shubham also held a session together for The Knowledge Series on Fun Science Experiments.

11 year old Ranvir says “ My mentor Vishesh Bhaiya has taught me that not all work we do is easy, but if we have enough faith, nothing is impossible. This changed my life.”

Aditi who is mentored by Varshana of Delhi Public School Ruby Park, says “ This interaction with Didi has made me more confident as I was a very shy girl. These 6 months have been great as I got this golden opportunity to learn from her.” Aditi and Varshana also held a session together on Leadership Skills for The Knowledge Series.

Thinkerminds encourages students towards social leadership through its programs and introduces students to the United Nations sustainable development goals (SDG4). Equity in education is under SDG4. We inspire high schoolers to be future change-makers and foster a sense of global responsibility.

Meetu Chawla is the founder of Thinkerminds, an organisation which imparts mindset training and coaches individuals to design their best life possible. Her expertise is coaching students on achieving both Personal, Emotional and Academic Success. 
She is passionate about motivating individuals, especially teens to find their purpose. Thinkerminds facilitates a few high school fellowships and programs to encourage teens into Changemaking , Social Impact and initiate discussions around social justice and sustainability.

Cover image: EDTech Magazine
Story images: Author

Standard Disclaimer : The story contributors are responsible for all views and facts provided in their posts. Lockdown Voices and its editorial team is not accountable for the accuracy of the information posted.

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