“Most of my education was in Pune. I did my master’s in Physics and recently completed my Ph.D. in the same field. The seeds of doing something for society were sown in me while I was studying at Jnana Prabodhini. On weekends I and my friends used to volunteer at ‘Neehar’ which is a rehabilitation center for the children of the red-light area workers, which is where I got that connection from my cores that I should give back something to the less fortunate.
I was fortunate to have like-minded peers. Pranith Simha who is the founder of Bachpan Banao in Dantewada, Chhattisgarh; is one of them. My first trip was with Pranith Simha to Dantewada where we conducted hands-on science workshops in schools. My second trip was to Ladakh with a group of friends where we conducted similar science workshops. I felt like these workshops and visits provided a great channel to get to know these remote areas, the people, and their culture better. With my friends and Ponkshe sir, we thought of giving a structure to these visits and making them into a program, Gyan-Setu.
The key ideas of Gyan-Setu could be put in three words: joy, exposure, and inspiration. Inspiration for the volunteers was thought to be the ultimate goal of Gyan-Setu. Inspiration to work for the society can come to you in different ways, may it be the feeling of oneness with the region, or the heart-to-heart connection with the kids and other people you meet and live with. To spread the joy of education as a whole, along with providing exposure to the fascinating world of science through simple hands-on toys were thought to be important goals in themselves, while also providing an excellent vehicle for connecting people.
The name Gyan-Setu came from the central idea of connecting people from diverse backgrounds through knowledge exchange.
When we started Gyan-Setu, the primary focus was on the culturally different and developmentally challenged areas. We started with Jammu-Kashmir, Chhattisgarh, Assam, and Arunachal Pradesh. Your motives are what matter the most, and they help in forging bonds with the children, their families, teachers, schools, and the hosts. The relationships with local host organizations were built through Jnana Prabodhini and through our volunteers. Gyan-Setu Melawa and Gyan-Setu Katta provide excellent occasions for meaningful interactions with them that help us build and continuously strengthen these relationships.
There were quite a few problems in the beginning, but the dilemma Gyan-Setu faced the most, and I guess continues to do so, was whether to focus on the number of volunteers or the quality of the workshops. We decided to keep the program open even for a volunteer with zero experience. But the workshops were designed in such a way that the volunteers could be trained fairly easily. So, it was like welcoming as many numbers of volunteers as possible but without compromising on the quality and the aims of the program. This obviously continues to be a big challenge. The larger and stronger the organizing team, the better will Gyan-Setu be able to face this, and the better will be the manifestation of its vision through diverse activities.
The fields in which Gyan-Setu currently works, education, and national integration, there are innumerable ways to diversify and grow in them, and that we hardly need to look beyond. The volunteering spirit, and the volunteers thinking of this program as their own, is the very life of Gyan-Setu and should be preserved.
All I would say to the volunteers is: follow your heart and passion, and it will propel your actions in ways you would never have imagined.”
Ph.D. in Physics from University of Maryland, USA
Founding Member of Gyan Setu
(Based on interview)