By Sriteja Kataru
Summer of 2022
Sriteja Kataru reflects on his VTSeva Summer Internship 2022 experience -- activities he was involved in, lessons learned and insights gained.
My moment of absolute contentment and pure joy occurred during a humid afternoon in Allampally, a remote forest village in Telangana, India. It was inside a classroom of a tribal school - the only concrete structure in a dense forest that is officially classified as a tiger reserve.
As my friend and I were teaching how each sensor worked in a crowded robotics classroom, everyone craned their necks and listened intently. Our goal of the day was to build a robot that uses its surroundings to move accordingly, somewhat an ambitious goal considering we didn’t have enough time building up to this point. When it was time to assemble the robot, the students excitedly put together the wheels, shaft, and sensors. Next, I started teaching them how to program the code to control the robot. As soon as I was done with basic programming constructs, I saw the students write remarkable programs. When the robot, after a period of debugging and rewriting, successfully sensed the wall and turned around, that was the moment of joy for me. They got it.
I could sense their jubilation as they started jumping up and down and high-fiving each other, a gesture we taught them only that morning. My takeaway from this robotics class is that these students are truly grateful for the education they receive, something that children in many other places take for granted.
This experience is part of my VT Seva summer internship in India. What started as a routine summer camp quickly became a journey of self-discovery for me. Every notion I originally had about happiness and a good life was constantly challenged. I was compelled to ponder on what brings true joy.
Visiting the nearby tribal villages (thandaas) was another rewarding experience for me. As several little kids held my hand and proudly gave me a tour of their villages, I couldn’t help but notice how their faces glowed with contentment. There were no grocery stores, no movie theaters, or no restaurants in sight. They have dirt roads and have electricity only for a few hours a day. How were they so happy?
Judging from our conversations, their happiness is rooted in positive thinking. “I am going to study well, get a good government job, and take care of my parents and my villagers”, said Rakesh, one 9th grader. Their happiness is also rooted in gratitude for what they have. They were happy that we came to see them and had new friends to play with.
What these Allampally kids taught me is to keep the hope alive. No matter how adverse the situations or scarce the resources are, they are always hopeful for a better tomorrow. These kids hope to secure a respectable government job. The young players fidgeting with their bats in the narrow alley dream of joining the national cricket team one day. Living in harmony with nature is also a part of their immeasurable joy. When I asked whether they were afraid of wild animals attacking them, they said, “We know the animals and the animals know us.”
When our bus stopped and gave a ride to kids who were walking by the road, they were visibly elated. And even if they do not have the most comfortable lives, they still manage to have fun, enjoy and laugh by finding happiness in the little, simple joys of life. This is some serious food for thought for me. Overall, I learned plenty of life lessons from these tribal students and villagers.
Along with Allampally, I also had the chance to visit and talk to the students at Netra Vidyalaya, a college for visually challenged students. Every time I went there, it was such a thought-provoking experience.
Here are some life lessons I learned from these remarkable students:
Many people are driven by the stigma surrounding sight loss and often don’t steer away from their misconceptions. My lesson from this is — you don’t need sight to have a vision. They still have vision for the things they are passionate about in life. They love things such as music, fashion, and writing. I was impressed and humbled by how much dedication and passion they put into their work, especially how they work with the JAWS software on the computer and passionately pursue their hobbies. Their lack of eyesight doesn’t stop them from following their passions and reaching their goals.
Before this internship, I thought that some things must be impossible to accomplish for visually challenged people but the Netra Vidyalaya students completely changed my mind on this. Some things might be harder to achieve because of vision loss but that doesn’t mean that those things are beyond their reach. They have been able to achieve things and reach goals that I never thought would be possible. They continuously win gold medals in state-level sports and excel in their academics. Because of this, I now firmly believe that you can achieve anything you want to achieve if you have drive and determination.
Another insight I have gained from observing and talking to the Netra Vidyalaya students is that it is important to push yourself. I sometimes refuse to do activities because I don’t think I’m capable of achieving them or I feel too anxious to do them. I see some visually challenged kids push themselves out of their comfort zones and compete in sports such as cricket. This taught me that I should always step out of my comfort zone to boost my confidence. In the beginning, the idea of going into a remote tribal village in a rainy season seemed like a daunting task. Now that I have pushed myself to do it, I feel so much better and it has definitely boosted my confidence for the future.
Something else I noticed in the Netra Vidyalaya students is that they have a lot of trust in their fellow classmates. How they support each other while walking, how they navigate around their computer classrooms, or even how they eat together for every single meal. This, of course, fosters community spirit and cohesion.
During one of our life lesson conversations, our Swamiji taught us our ego stems from three sources. Ego from wealth, ego from education, and ego from position (being from a reputed family or a position of power). Swamiji further taught us that we should be aware of these at all times. This self-awareness further helps with our self-discovery process.
Even after the trip ended, my journey of self-discovery continues based on the lessons I received during the trip. This internship taught me not to take my blessings for granted, and before I open my mouth to complain, I remember the face of the little boy, who lost his eyesight at the age of 9 and is still studying hard to become a bank officer. I also realized how trivial my own problems are compared to what others are battling each day. This internship has unquestionably changed my outlook and perspective on life and how I encounter different situations on a daily basis.