A confident smile on her face, the young girl sings a welcome song in English. Soon after, she is not shy to show her skills at badminton or playing a game of carom with her friends. “Sometimes I can’t recognise myself. For the old me and the new me are almost like two different people”, she confesses.
That is Komal Yadav for you. A teenager from Sonbhadra district of Varanasi who lives at AIM for Seva Chatralayam for girls, one of the 97 hostels for girls and boys run by AIM for Seva, founded by Swami Dayanand Saraswati.
In addition to three Chatralayams (Free hostels) in Uttarakhand– Dehradun, Karnaprayag and Srinagar, there are also three sewing centers and one formal education centre in Uttarakhand.
The Chatrayalams are located near a school and provide children from class 4 to 12 after school academic support, tuition and materials, nutritious food, sports, music and yoga.
So the hostels are not just giving children the chance to complete their schooling, which becomes a challenge (especially with schools being far flung in rural areas) but also learn other life skills with ease.
“The idea is to equip these children with skills to face the world as more confident young individuals. So right from public speaking to participating in activities like singing and dancing to sometimes growing their own vegetables (where hostels have the required space), the students do it all. The idea is to give them a conducive environment for an overall development,” explains Swami Hamsananda Saraswati, Coordinator Uttarakhand.
Also each Chatralayam notices what each child is good at and tries to help the child in that area. Take for example, Vandana Rana from Rudraprayag, a student of Class 10, who the warden discovered, likes to sketch. Not only is she provided with the necessary art material but also encouraged to hone her skill.
Sakshi Kandari of Class five is good at dancing and is encouraged to participate in several dance competitions at school and in the hostel. Arti Kandari has honed her skills not just at studies but also badminton and Neha Kumari from Bihar who was a shy village girl is now a confident young speaker.
Interestingly it is no different in the boy’s hostel in Srinagar or Karnprayag or other parts of the country.
Take for example Rahul Gaur from the Karnaprayag hostel won the 800 meters at the state level championship held in Maharana Sports College, Dehradun in February 2018. Subsequently, he got through the Garhwal Regiment of the Indian Army. Gaur is now gunning for an Olympic berth and he hopes the Army will support him in this endeavour just like they did for Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and Vijay Kumar Sharma, Dogra Regiment (silver medalists, 2012 Summer Olympics).
Interestingly when the children live together in a hostel without their families, not only do they learn empathy and interpersonal skills but also how to cope with stress and emotions.
Take for example sisters Mansi and Himansi Rawat whose mother died and their father found it difficult to take care of the young girls. Living in the Chatralayam has helped the duo not just become independent but also develop a close bond with her other hostel mates. So the girls end up watching out for each other like family.
Be it tending to a friend who is unwell, helping the cook at the hostel with serving food, pitching in to help each other with studies and generally being there for each other.
Like their warden, Priyangi Kandari puts it. “The girls are almost like sisters. These are bonds that will last. With the emphasis on studies as well as overall development, be it empathy, confidence or effective communication, these children are better placed to face the future.”
The smiles on their faces, say as much.
The story is a part of OneWorld – Dream a Dream Media Fellowships on Life Skills, 2018