Changing one life at a time: Educating domestic workers in India.

Education is the most powerful weapon, which you can use to change the world - Nelson Mandela

India has its fair share of issues that affect the society at large. The one, which is closest to my heart, is the lack of education. Even though education is a fundamental right in India, there are numerous hurdles that prohibit a child from actually getting education. Domestic helpers are ubiquitous in the middle class & upper-middle class households of India. For domestic helpers & their children, education is seldom a choice as they are forced to earn a living at a very young age to provide for themselves & their families. Moreover, education programmes across villages & towns are not efficiently designed and fail to resonate with the children who prefer working over sitting in a classroom.

I believe education is one of the key tools with which an individual can empower her or himself and eventually their families. In order to address this issue, I tried to gain a better understanding of the backgrounds & predispositions of such individuals. Yes, most did not have access to a proper learning environment but what stood out was the fact that the true value & power of education evaded them completely.

I had to eradicate deep-rooted notions such as:

“I am too old for it.”

“I don’t have the time or money.”

“What’s the point? I will be a servant or a cook for the rest of my life.”

However, when asked if they would like their children to get educated, the unanimous answer was — “YES!”

The solution to the problem lay in creating a framework, which would facilitate access to education without them having to compromise on their daily chores and focus on concepts that they can practice in their daily lives.

As I presented this learning opportunity to the domestic workers in my apartment building in Kolkata, I was extremely motivated to see that 6 of them jumped at the opportunity. They also spread the word and gathered a few more peers from the building to take the number to 14 by the time we began. It was heartwarming to see in them the desire to share & grow collectively. Residents of the building volunteered to teach and thus began the journey of changing lives one at a time.

It’s been 6 weeks of hour-long classes, 3–4 times a week and the results are incredible. These men & women are discovering new pathways to the future for themselves and it’s time to pause & reflect:

Sibu, 30, struggled to hold a pencil and didn’t even know the alphabet when he started. As of today he is able to write 3–4 letter words and pronounce basic English words such as fruits/vegetables/greetings/colors amongst other things.

Ranjit, 25, knew the alphabet and basic counting when he started. He stammered and could not read at all. As of today, he is able to read words and sentences. He is a more confident speaker and has shown the most amount of progress in such a short time.

Vaidnath, 24, had attended school up until grade 7 but forgotten most of his vocabulary and was unable to read out words. He has attended every class in the last 6 weeks and as of yesterday told me that not only has he recalled most of his past learnings but also been able to grasp a lot more due to our teaching style and content.

A test took place yesterday marking the 6-week period, and the results showed considerable improvements in their learning speed alongside a greater degree of registration of content that had been taught. The age-group of our students vary from 20 to 55, and each of them is motivated to improve their lives and become role models for their families. I am humbled when I see them using what we teach in their interactions with each other as well as at places where they work/shop etc.

It is beautiful and incredible to see this level of interest, enthusiasm and performance from this group in such a short period of time! I am so proud of them!

In the second phase, we are moving on to concepts such as financial literacy, basic etiquettes and a greater focus on reading and speaking. By facilitating a strong learning environment, our goal is to expand their knowledge while improving their day-to-day living. We are changing one life at a time and this is one example of how small efforts can truly make a BIG IMPACT!

We are looking at replicating and scaling this model — So let’s give people across India irrespective of their age, backgrounds or profession a chance to discover their true potential and become a better version of themselves. If you have any suggestions please comment here or contact me. If you like what you read, please share this story!

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