The Perspective We Need, The Change They Deserve: Rashi Agarwal Changing Lives
“Whenever I saw the slums on just crossing the NIT gates or the workers of our college who had no place to rest properly after tiring work, It made me wonder how I could be of any service to them ”
Motivation and passion can be found anywhere at any time. Along these lines, Rashi Agarwal, completing MSc in Physics from NIT Rourkela in 2019, found hers in assisting humankind, as is reflected in the above lines by her. She raised Rs. 50,000 for COVID-19 relief, providing education to 300 village and tribal children with the help of 15 community volunteers for five months now as well as distributed stationary among these students to help them study and reached out to children in remote rural areas helping the rural students to continue their education in the time of crisis.
Social work is founded on noble purposes and provides rewards that can sometimes seem short or insufficient in the face of challenging circumstances.
Rashi is one of the few who has broken herself from the common trends of society and managed to transform several lives, despite the challenging circumstances.
Team Monday Morning got the opportunity to interview this gem of a person and talk about her work, her plans, inspirations behind the same and a lot more!
Monday Morning (MM): You completed MSc Physics from NIT Rourkela and later went ahead with social work. What exactly was the driving force behind this total change of career lines? How did your family and friends react to the field you chose?
Rashi Agarwal (RA): The call for social work was something that came from within when I felt like we were all being selfish and needed to return to society, doing something for those who don’t have the privileges. Social work was not an entire change of career lines but just a small deviation as I am still pursuing the fellowship programme. Initially, my family was against my choice of opting for social work as they wanted me to go for the PhD programme but after they got aware with my work, the way I made a positive contribution to the society the support came in gradually.
MM: Tell us something about your NIT Rourkela days. Would you like to share some of your best memories or experiences during your days here?
RA: There were a lot of memories throughout the years in NIT Rourkela. The best experience was being a part of the astronomy club. In my first year of MSc, I was actively involved in club activities. We used to have night sessions and invite the students from NIT for any celestial events like supermoon or an eclipse and explain to everyone about astronomy which was quite interesting. We also made a Science club making productive things from waste products.
MM: How did NIT help to develop you as the person you're as of now?
RA: The institute helped me a lot to develop the person I am. It made me realise my interest and passion in my life. It motivated me to carve my path which makes me happy instead of following a predefined cliche path and what is the trend and other people do.
MM: In this era when people are so busy stockpiling for themselves, how did the thought of giving back to society cross your mind?
RA: The thing of giving back to society is a part of who I am. Being a little sensitive towards the society around me whenever I saw the slums on just crossing the NIT gates or the workers of our institute who had no place to rest properly after tiring work, It made me think how can I be useful to them. It was troublesome for me to think I couldn't help people even with the degree so I decided to take a break in my career and help people which makes me happy and satisfied.
MM: Tell us about your journey in this field so far, especially how you managed to raise such a sum for such noble work.
RA: After my MSc, I went for the Gandhi Fellowship where I worked in the government schools in Bahraich UP. Before the Covid-19 pandemic made the education system completely standstill and shift to the online mode it was already one year working for the poor students. The problem with the online mode of education was that the students couldn’t afford the general necessity and their education was completely stopped. Therefore we came up with a plan to create an ecosystem in every village where we searched for the educated youths in the village who could volunteer to teach the kids. We provided an incentive to the kids to attend the classes safely like masks, sanitizers, books and notebooks. For this purpose, we started crowdfunding which was very well received by people and we raised a sum of 50000 INR. Goonj NGO also donated a large sum helping in our initiative and we managed to continue education for the rural kids even in the time of crisis.
MM: What is your opinion is the approach of people towards social work and how willing are they to contribute for a change?
RA: Actually, people are willing to contribute. But most of them only see contributions as a monetary input. I don't think that alone is enough. No matter the field, we get tons of experiences throughout our life. That experience is what should reach people. Money is not sufficient. People should think to contribute through their minds as well by utilising what they have gained so far to enrich society. Taking my example, I belong to a science background. When I went to a government school, I was shocked to see the way education was being imparted. It was no different than what I was taught 20 years back. It was disturbing for me to look at the scene despite the so-called progress in society. Hence, I started thinking about how I could make science fun for those kids. So, this is what I mean when I say people should use their knowledge and experience at the grass-root level to bear a change.
MM: One of the most important things is convincing people to contribute. How exactly do you convince people of their social responsibility?
RA: To be frank, It wasn’t difficult. Of all the initiatives I took during my journey, Punch light was the only initiative that involved asking people to ask for help. It wasn't anything other than money. Also, we only asked our close contacts who had faith in our conviction and a strong belief in ideas. We made it crystal clear to them that whatever they sum they contribute, the total collection shall be divided and we also explained to them how it was to be used. Hence, we faced no major issue in convincing.
MM: How has your experience been in rural areas? Because you've provided education to children in over 500 villages, What do you think is the major roadblock to education in those regions?
RA: In general, poverty and overpopulation shall be the flag bearers. Those communities can't afford private schools. Even the government system is poor. They just don’t get what they deserve. Students who go to govt schools are in no way inferior to the students who go to privates. Just by birth in a poor family, they receive the worst of education, health care and in the covid scenario too, these problems remain as such. People in far off villages do not have access to connectivity with unreliable mobile networks. One cannot expect to impart online education in those areas. Secondly, poverty is already mentioned, buying and recharging phones every month is an immense problem for the families. I don’t think parents who can't afford a simple textbook and pencil for their children, can afford a monthly phone recharge for online classes.
MM: Social work is one of the noblest professions one can emulate. So, how do you see yourself in future? What do you strive to achieve as a social worker.?
RA: Speaking of the immediate future, I plan to concentrate on academics only. Social work is one of how you can contribute to society. But I don't look at these as the most sustainable ways of bringing a change. If you need sustainable changes, you need to make systematic changes. NGOs and similar organizations cannot bring about systematic changes. For that, we need to work with the government. We need to change the system on the core level and make new policies. That is what I plan to do. I intend to prepare for it, study more about education and society and how both the parameters are linked. Moving to the far future, I want to be at a place where I can bring about systematic changes and design policies better suited for poor communities. On these lines, I plan to pursue a PhD in education after fellowship.
MM: Let's go a few years back. How were your childhood and school days? Had you made up your mind back then that you're going to be a social worker?
RA: I studied in a private school, leading a simple life, my childhood was no different from most of us. I need not go back a long way to think about how it started. Until the first year of MSc, I had no plans of leaving academia and joining this fellowship. It was very random. Only through college placements, I sat for a placement fellowship in the Gandhi fellowship programme. Once I got selected, I thought that I could take a break and look at problems and matters in villages. After that, if I want, I’ll go for a PhD. Hence, it was a very spontaneous decision. No long-standing plans as such.
MM: What is your message to our readers?
I would just say that students these days like to take themselves in one of the frames society has made for them. We are a population of billions but we have very few trends where we try to fit ourselves in. In case we find it unsuitable for us, we like to think that we are the problem because we could not fit into something that we thought was supposed to be for us. This is the mentality that needs to be changed. Don't force yourself too hard. Redefine success in your terms, only that will make them happy, not what others say.
Team MM congratulates Rashi Agarwal for her outstanding social work and noble deeds, wishing her luck for the future ahead!