December 5th, 6th and 7th of 2011 shall forever be etched in my heart!
Reason? My visit to the IIMPACT Learning Centers in Gajapati district of Orissa.
When I left Bangalore on the morning of 5th December I was just a representative of Manipal Foundation who are supporting a few centers there. However at the end of 7th December, I was a new and hopefully a better person.
It is a 7 hr drive from Bhubaneshwar to Gajapati. I was received by Rajesh from IIMPACT at Bhubaneshwar. He was with me throughout my visit and his friendly nature and hospitality truly reflected the IIMPACT culture, a taste of which I have had in Gurgaon earlier this year.
We reached Taptapani, a OTDC hotel, where I was booked to stay, at 5 pm. We left my luggage in the room and immediately left to see the evening centers.
The trip made me realize how remote the locations were ! We travelled from 5pm till 9 pm and were able to see only two centers. There was no electricity but the classes were in full swing.
At Gaptima, the teacher, Ms. Pushpitha Mallick was truly impressive. She is the first generation college goer of the village. A tough looking young woman, who obviously took her job seriously. Because there was no electricity, but we were greeted by the girls, all standing and reciting the mathematical tables in a musical note. The sight really impressed me.
The next day we started our journey at 8 am. We were joined by Mr. Duryodhan from CCWD through whom IIMPACT is getting the project implemented. For a person with such a villainous name, Mr. Duryodhan came across as a crusader who walks the entire forest and I noticed that every person on the way was known to him and he had something to ask them regarding their welfare.
All the centers we saw were remote but very well run by the teachers. The handwriting of the girls was uniformly beautiful. Maybe because the Oriya script itself is very artistic. The girls did mathematical sums in the Oriya script and for my benefit did all of it again in the Arabic numerals. In a span of one year they have mastered two languages!
Simili was the biggest challenge of all. We had to trek a long way on the rough terrain. I struggled but did not give up because I saw women and children walking the same way with big loads on their heads and children on their hips. I had to carry only myself. The villagers were very happy to see a “city person” who had taken the trouble of coming to see them all the way. They wanted us to stay back for the night, have dinner, etc. I took leave of them with the promise that I would come back soon to be their guest. We had more centers to see!
Simili has almost 40 girls enrolled in the center and a good number waiting to enroll. I request IIMPACT to open one more center at Simili at the earliest.
At Patipanka the girls greeted us with a welcome song composed by their teacher. The girls are very talented; most of them have such lovely voices.
Our last visit was Pudkima where a young girl rendered a song in Oriya – a prayer to the Lord to help her through the “sansar sagar”. The song continues to haunt me – the lyrics so devotional and her voice so divine. As I walked out of the center I wonder what the future had in store for the girl – whether the Lord will help her sail through or not. But then He has sent IIMPACT to them and the girls have reasons to look forward to a better tomorrow.