When Impact On The Ground invited me to be a part of a transformation project in rural India, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into. The ‘Naya Rang’ initiative literally translates to ‘new colors’; and metaphorically, a new identity. So, we would makeover a couple of schools, interact with children, and by the end of it, the students would feel motivated to come back to an unrecognisably new school in bright, welcoming colors.
What I wasn’t prepared for, was the transformation it brought about in me. While we worked to accomplish our original goals, there was more than just a superficial change occurring. As the school walls got a facelift, my perspective was beginning to change, too. Students as young as 5, and teachers much older, all voluntarily assigned themselves various responsibilities, and saw them through. We shrugged off our numerous differences to effect a real, tangible difference to their education. As someone who always regarded studying a bore, I was humbled by the degree of privilege I never realised I had.
This collective effort gave me the opportunity to mingle with the students. Despite an unsurmountable language barrier, they quickly cemented a connection with me. They taught me that laughter speaks its own language, even if they’re laughing at your comical tries to (mis)pronounce basic words, or intentionally teaching you ‘bad words’ to later laugh at your embarrassment at being corrected by a sympathetic teacher.
It was also a lesson in contentment. A product of metros, I’m all about the fastest way to reach the ever-moving finish line. I rarely pause to appreciate my life and its many comforts, much less try to put someone else at ease. Here, people were more than happy to share their experiences and expertise with us. From narrating legends about their village to helping us figure out the easiest way to open a paint-can – they lightened our mood and our load in every way they knew how.
Rural India holds endless potential for pleasant surprises. It could be seeing a sky full of stars for the first time, away from the city pollution that usually clouds your view. Maybe it’s the earnest attempt to make ‘black tea’ upon request, in an area that has only ever tasted milky sweet chai. Or, maybe it’s leaving with the realisation that these people have had a longer-lasting impact on you than you’ve had on them.
In any case, it’s well worth surprising yourself for.
Volunteer, Naya Rang Initiative