A New Beginning

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Seven people stared at each other in a nervous silence. Standing outside the lecture theatre which was to serve as our ‘stage’ today, we waited for the first of the kids to come along. The new Avanti Core Team (ACT) for IIT Delhi was ready to welcome 23 new Fellows. In our heads, we perceived them as bright, talented kids who just got stuck in the wrong place at the wrong time and we fancied ourselves to be their saviours. But what did reality have in store for us?

Over the past few weeks, one question has repeated itself unerringly, day after day after day. ‘What is Avanti and what do you do as a part of Avanti?’ So let me begin there. For the uninitiated, Avanti is a non-profit organisation which basically helps educate economically backward students. Yes, it’s that straightforward. At IIT Delhi, the ACT identifies around 20 bright Class X kids who are interested in pursuing engineering, but don’t have the means to do so. We take these kids under our wing, christen them ‘Fellows’, give them access to free coaching for the JEE at Brilliant Tutorials for two years and provide one-to-one mentorship right until they complete their undergraduate degrees. Now, back to the story…

As the first of the kids walked in with his proud parents and his mentor, we tried hard to look busy – fiddling with the projector and the laptops and the papers and whatnot. But we were all just trying to gauge his reaction to the whole setup. Was he overawed? Inspired? Maybe even bemused? As more students trickled in, they got nice and comfortable in the air-conditioned environment of VI LT 1 and in no time, we had more than half our Fellows present. Expectant eyes stared at us as we took our positions and started the day’s proceedings.

A quick introduction by Naga was followed by more detailed (and might I say, highly repetitive yet effective) description of the program by our Directors, Shruti and Abhilasha. As proceedings went smoothly, the Fellows gained the courage to speak up. A session of introductions broke the ice and while we waited for refreshments to arrive in the form of samosas and mithai, the mentors showed their charges around the IIT campus. Achieving a goal becomes a lot easier when you know what the goal is. Or so we’d like to believe!

All formalities were forgotten as everyone gorged on the food, which eventually did arrive, albeit an hour late. With some blessed soul grossly overestimating the number of people expected, we ended up with an entire carton of samosas, which meant there were enough to go around and then some more. As the kids opened up to us about their goals and ambitions, you could see the occasional pair of moist eyes in the parents’ section. Fellows gave us a brief glimpse into their lives and one especially eloquent speaker enlightened us all with some words of wisdom on his idol – Swami Vivekananda. There’s so much one can learn from others, if only one keeps an open mind!

Some boring but necessary paperwork was followed by a photo session. As our resident photographer tried (unsuccessfully) to get some good shots, the kids and their parents were introduced to the Managers, who will work alongside the mentors to guide the Fellows through the dark tunnel that is IIT coaching. We were lucky to see light at the end of it and now, it’s time we helped someone else do the same.

I have been quite liberal in branding the Fellows as ‘kids’, but in reality, we’re not much older than them, are we? And while we’d like to believe we’ve seen a lot that they haven’t, I’m pretty sure that isn’t true either. But what we have undertaken is a journey – one that these ‘kids’ are now about to embark upon. A journey at the end of which some will find success while others may not. The next two years are crucial for these ‘kids’ and it was with this sobering thought that we concluded the inaugural session of the Avanti Fellows Program 2011-12.

These 23 Fellows and their families are now an official part of the Avanti family and for the next two years, all of us will work together to ensure that their hard work does not go waste. Exhausted as we were at the end of the day, it was truly a rewarding session. And what’s more, this is just the first chapter of a long story, which will not fail to delight, amuse or horrify, in equal parts. So watch this space for more!

PS – The extra samosas were given away to street kids, who rejoiced at the mere sight of them. Added dose of happiness! 🙂

-Nishit Jain

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