Indian American high school students return after successful teaching program in India under AIM For Seva

Ishan Dave interacts with students

Ritu Jha-

A group of Indian American high schoolers traveled to a remote village in India to teach as part of the All India Movement (AIM) for Seva’s Global Youth Leadership Program (GYLP), however, they say that in turn they learned valuable life lessons and reconnected with their roots. Ishan Dave (in picture above), from Bay Area was one among 25 other 11th graders part of the team that stayed in India from December 22 to January 6. He shared with indica the story of his journey to Manjakkudi, a small village in Tamil Nadu.

Founded by Swami Dayananda Saraswati, All India Movement for Seva (AIM for Seva), is a non-profit organization that provides means for education to underprivileged children and runs 94 chatralayas (student hostels) in 17 states of India.

Ishan said he believes his association with the cause of AIM for Seva may have begun even before he was born because his grandparents have been involved with AIM for Seva for quite a while, and they told him about this opportunity in March 2023 when the applications first opened up. to go on the trip six or seven months before it happened.

“I immediately thought it was very interesting. And that led me to do a little more research on AIM for Seva and its cause. I liked that they are supporting growth in villages of India and making an impact on underprivileged kids. I was very inclined to go on this trip,” Ishan told indica.

He had another other reason as well behind the India visit – his pet projects. “I’m doing a lot of research projects on machine learning, artificial intelligence and a lot of technology. And I wanted to see where some of these technologies could be implemented in India. I learned a lot about that too during the fortnight I spent in India.”

Ishan said that he and the other members of the team were not treated as VVIPs. “The part that I enjoyed most about being there was that they treated me like their family. I felt very honored and privileged to be there and to be a part of that community. Before reaching India, I thought I was going to be somewhat of an outcasted and not going to be able to fit in with the community, and its culture because most of the kids that I went on the trip with spoke Tamil and I didn’t. Initially, I was nervous and scared. But when I reached the village, everything changed. I made lots of friends, not only with the people from the US I went with, but I made friends with all the kids there. I thought that I would go there as a teacher of basic math, English, and science for 8th and 9th graders. But I quickly realized that I was the student and I was able to learn a lot from the kids there,” Ishan said.

Communication was one of the challenges that the 16-year-old overcame during his stay in Manjakkudi. “I’m from western India, and I speak Gujarati. The school that I taught at was an English medium school, so all the kids had a basic level of English, but it wasn’t the strongest. The partner that I taught in a classroom with spoke Tamil, so she helped me communicate, and I also spoke in English with the kids. It was a little difficult in the beginning, but as I got to know the kids better and vice versa, we didn’t need to use a language to communicate. I felt like everybody was very expressive and communicative.”

Though Ishan does say that he learned a whole new set of head nods as a means to get his point across. “Head nods in India are a lot different. You can communicate a lot by just moving your head differently. Initially, it seemed hard for me to acclimate to the culture and learn how to communicate, but once I did, I didn’t see that as an obstacle as a part of my trip,” Ishan said.

All of their lesson plans mainly consisted of math, English, and basic science. “We taught them algebra, equations, and systems of equations and how to make graphs. In English, we taught them parts of speech particularly. We helped develop their speaking skills in communicating in English because we thought that that would be their biggest weak point as they’re in a very remote part of India. In biology, we taught them about cells, cell structures, Punnett squares, and different subtopics of biology that were very basic. We taught full school days, so our days would start typically at 09:00 a.m. and end at about 3:30 p.m. with an hour-long lunch break in the middle. There were 13 classrooms and about 15 to 20 kids per classroom.”

This was not the first teaching assignment for Ishan. He is the founder of a nonprofit called Aionix, where he teaches US-based senior citizens about implementations of artificial intelligence and how to use AI, like Chat GPT in the real world. “I did have some experience with teaching, but it was a big difference when I taught little kids,” he said.

Sharing about his India experience and conducting classes at the school in Manjakkudi he said, “I thought that I would go there as a teacher and teach the kids every day and give worksheets and assignments. But I learned that I was the one who went there as a student because I came back with more information than I went there with.”

“I learned from the kids there about culture, the values of tradition, and morals, because all the children there were very hardworking and disciplined, and I believe that I could bring that back here and spread that in my community,” Ishan said. “The culture in India was very strong. I would say here in America, our culture is very weakened through diversity, although diversity is a great thing. And I learned that there are a lot of things that could be improved here to bring our community together. I learned that from India, and that’s something I could never have taught those kids.”

“In the US kids don’t take studying and school as seriously as the kids who we met with in India. All the children there were very focused, hardworking, and disciplined. They played hard but studied even harder. That was great for me to see, and that was something that I will try to implement here when I’m at school.”

“And I learned that being genuine and being honest is the best way to connect with the people there. Everyone there was very eager and pleased to meet me, as I was with them. I learned that since they were so genuine, we were able to connect, although there were several cultural and language barriers. I believe that AIM for Seva, as an organization, strives to make a genuine impact in that community,” Ishan added.

The teen teachers also realized that their pupils already knew much about what they were teaching. “The students there were all exceptionally smart because they already knew a lot of the topics that we went to teach them. The topics that we went to teach them were taught in 8th and 9th grades here. But when we were there, we realized that they knew a lot of the stuff we were teaching, and they had most, if not all of the formulas, parts of speech, and cells memorized. I wouldn’t say that the education system over there is missing anything. In fact, it’s more advanced than ours over here because the discipline, the level of memorization, and knowledge that the students were able to recall throughout our time there was very impressive. We need to learn a thing or two from their education system.”

“There were several students there with big aspirations. Every kid there, surprisingly enough, had a very big dream of their own, whether in India or the US. Most of them didn’t specify, but a lot of them want to become engineers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, businessmen, businesswomen, and have big goals and big dreams. As we’re on the same path in our own lives, we did our best to encourage them and motivate them to be able to take a step forward toward their goals.”

Ishan said he has returned home to the US with “many good memories, lots of friendships, and a mission.”

“I have kept in contact with a lot of the students from the trip too. There was only so much that I could teach the kids there, but they taught me so much about culture, community, and moral values that I have to bring back here. And I know it’s my mission to come here and spread those things in my community, because although we may be advanced technologically, our community here in the US may have fewer people with more money, the values that I learned in India, are not here where I live right now, and I would love to spread that and enrich my community in that way.”

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