The IIT seat allotment website told me that I was going to be an Aerospace Engineer from IIT Madras. Two years of strenuous work had finally paid off and I was right on track for a ‘safe and secure career’. Or so I was told, since the time I can remember. But now it was time to catch up, time to try things out, find out my hobbies and talents which remained hidden under layers and layers of random physics-chemistry-math info which I had carefully stacked into my brain for the sole purpose of getting here. I wished I could put everything I had learnt to better use, something that goes beyond 6 hrs of darkening bubbles.
That’s when I came to know about Avanti Fellows. (Avanti Fellows is a non-profit organization started by IIT Bombay alumni. Their aim is to provide JEE tutoring to students of 11th and 12th from low income families with the help of student volunteers, called Mentors, from IIT. So that IIT admissions are not limited to a privileged few). When I tried to become a Mentor, I was told they weren’t taking girls because of the monthly Pondicherry trip. I don’t know whether it was feminist feelings that provoked me, or my moral responsibility, I was determined to be part of Avanti Fellows.
I have been part of Avanti for a year now, and it’s been a perfect opportunity for me to apply what knowledge I had acquired over two years, which would have been a complete waste otherwise. Every weekend some of us go to Pondicherry and teach a little bit of Phy, Chem and Math to the students. What do I get out of Avanti? Well, there’s the satisfaction of giving something back to the society, contributing to someone else’s welfare; so that you can convince yourself that you aren’t selfish, that you aren’t yet another IITian who wants nothing but a fat pay-check in his hand in the end. But that’s not all. The teaching, mentoring, doubt solving, interacting, it’s all fun! Just like the way it’s fun to help your younger brother complete a Science project or proof-read an English essay. The realization that you are helping someone achieve their dream, that you are touching lives, it makes you happy – on the inside.
Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (the school in Pondicherry where we go) is a residential school, implying that the students do not see the outside world. They study, they go attend classes, eat and sleep. And maybe play a little, if time permits. Avanti Mentors talk to them, help them adjust to the new and busy life, cope with home sickness and tackle academic pressure. They talk about their loneliness, inability to do what they love, their weaknesses and so on. On the educational front, the dedication they have is exemplary. You see their shining faces, absorbing every word you say, drinking in every tiny input you give them, hoping that one day they can conquer their sky-high dreams. They don’t want the latest version of Apple iPhone, or a PS3, or the latest Adidas rugby shoes. They just want one shot, one fair chance to make things better. And they know that one shot is all they will get.
What I wish to do through Avanti is give them that one shot they deserve. Maybe not every one of them will make it to IIT, but I’m sure I’ll help them reach somewhere. Where they are better off. So that one day they can also help someone else somewhere, give their share back to society.
– Reshmi S, Avanti Mentor at IIT Madras
“Our mentors from IIT Madras travel on the weekends to meet the Fellows in JNV, Pondicherry.
On the left is a photograph of Reshmi (with another mentor – Sai Tejo in the background) taking a nap while standing in the bus while on the way to Pondicherry at 6 in the morning. Many a times when the mentors don’t get a place to sit on the bus, they choose to travel anyway, taking a nap and revising the teaching along the way trying not to waste the students’ time by waiting for a bus which has seats!”
– Naga Maddilety Reddy, Director Operations