It has recently occurred to me that social service is not my cup of tea.
Now before you start making assumptions, keep reading. In summer of 2016 I joined an organization called Change Vadodara Campaign(CVC) that focuses on breaking the cycle of poverty, illiteracy, and violence through education in my hometown of Vadodara. Little did I know, just two months and about $3000 (in Indian rupees) of fundraising later, I’d be headed to a part a of the town, where I haven’t visited before in the last 18 years to give them their 1st ever workshop on personal hygiene. The experiences of immersing myself in the those communities—of sharing the same straw-thatched, mud-brick homes of families, of learning bits and pieces of their customs —have been the most enriching aspects of my education to date. I may have traveled to another part of my town, but it felt like another world away, and by the time I left, I was no longer an outsider. To see an eight-year-old girl, Riya, thirst for knowledge as she meticulously traced letters of English into the chalkboard that she found lying, makes me wonder what stories she’ll tell when she finally gets the chance to articulate her mind, without any fear. To see a host of elderly women, who will no longer have to tie strips of fabric onto public buses to know which ones to take home from the market because they’ll be able to read their destinations by themselves, reassures me the literacy program is empowering women to be self-sufficient. These memories, though seemingly not monumental, drive me to go the extra mile now that I’m in college.
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They fuel my passion for the case I’m investing in, making proud of the work I do. That being said, as well-intentioned as I may have been in committing to the cause, I also acknowledge that every one of the aforementioned factors is a priority of my own doing. The people of those communities asked for a teacher, not an unskilled student. I’m not a professionally trained educator. I don’t profess to being a “knowledgeable” individual.
As charming of a companion as I can be, it isn’t my presence in these communities that changes the peoples’ lives to the maximum extent. Wouldn’t it be better, if I as an engineering graduate, with dual major in economics and a minor in public policy (the combination that Illinois Tech won’t let me have in spite of me having the passion and the zeal for it), go on and join the public service so as to be able to serve more such communities. However hard we want to try, if we aren’t in the system, there is very little of an impact we can make and this what I wish to change with my education because, I believe that the aim of education is not to fill your bank account so that you can retire in peace, but to help those less unfortunate, hoping that it will inspire them to continue this cycle. We all wish to do something good for the society, but there comes a point, when we find ourselves stopped at the crossroads.
Ambitions meets reality, and taunted are we as we weight them head-to-head. For two years now, the CVC has accomplished many great things. But how do we ensure that our efforts impact the maximum people? Who benefits when I arrive as an unskilled student in a village? How do you measure positive contributions, and from whose perspective? I’m still grappling with these questions as I strive to strike the right balance between making a contribution and utilizing my education to ensure the maximizing of benefits to the recipients. Truly, community service isn’t for me, because I want use my education for nation service, so that many more Riyas are able to present their stories.