Green Trails internship

Like most of us, I am not living a highly environment conscious life when it comes to my day-to-day activities. But the increasing heat in summers, experiencing water shortage when living in Jamnagar (Gujarat, India) for a year as a kid, the occasional readings and videos about the shrinking glaciers and the hazardous waste being dumped in India by the developed nations, has often brought my attention towards our environment (It also led me to find out about the Masters course in Wildlife and Conservation. Another interesting thing 🙂 ). So when one of my friend sent me a link to Green Trails internship, I explored the idea.

Green Trails internship is a one month internship program in the Himalayas by Indiahikes. Indiahikes is a trek documenting organization. They also organize treks. So what led Indiahikes to the Green Trails project?

Well, trekking in Indian Himalayas was a rare sight in the 1990s. But it has gained significant momentum in the last decade. Nowadays we can identify quite a number of people around us going for treks in the mountains. Why do we go on treks? For the love of nature, the beauty, the serenity that those few days offer us away from the hustle of our city lives. But while we engage ourselves in this fun activity, we often neglect one important aspect of it. The waste we generate on these treks can potentially ruin the beauty and the nature of these places in the mountains in the decades to come.

Folks at Indiahikes realized the gravity of this early on. It led them to start the Green Trails project to make trekking in Himalayas a sustainable pursuit. Read here to know more about the Green Trails project.

The process to become a Green Trails intern is quite simple. First, send an email as mentioned on the website. In response to the email, you receive a questionnaire. It includes questions regarding your basic details as well as your common understanding of the cause. Next step is a Skype interview which informs you more about nature of the work and the project. Once selected, you get to know the location of the internship. It’s usually a remote Himalayan village. Your accommodation and meals are taken care of. If you finish the one month successfully, you get Rs. 2500 per week as stipend. You may also get a chance to go on one of the beautiful Himalayan treks organized by Indiahikes during your stay.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t join the internship due to my recent LASIK eye surgery. But I think one can make anything out of this one month. It can serve as an opportunity to learn about the ground level issues, to contribute by driving a project all alone and to experience the mountains with free food and stay.

Recently I also came across someone who studied environmental studies and made changes in her lifestyle to reduce the wastes that she puts out. Watch it in this video.

It’s a relief to come across people who are still doing whatever small contribution they are able to make towards the greater good. (And then we have world leaders who think Global warming is a myth. Sigh!)

Anyways, still optimistic 🙂

Lessons from the Mountains

Almost six months back, I went on an 8 days 7 nights trek to Kashmir. We were 5 people apart from the trek guides, cooks and few other helping hands. The trek started from Sonmarg, 90 km from Srinagar. We trekked a distance of 10-12 km in the mountains every day and pitched our tents near beautiful lakes every night (That’s why the trek is called Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. It encompasses Nichnai river, Vishnusar lake, Kishansar lake, Gadsar lake, Satsar lake and Gangabal twin lakes). We trekked through mountains of varied texture: some of them covered with grass, few with bare soil – found them the most risky due to insufficient grip while others covered with large boulders – found them safest but strenuous to trek. I was mesmerized by the view of glaciers – mountains covered with vast thick white ice sheets. It led me to venture out to reach the glaciers on two different occasions. I failed in my attempts but that’s when I learned about my fears and the mightiness of mountains. Although I managed a much closer yet so distant view of those glaciers. May be some other time! 🙂

On the first occasion, we reached our destination camp site for the day early in the afternoon. After lunch and a nap, I, along with a fellow trekker, went to see the lake which was few hundred meters away from our camp. The lake was greenish-blue in color. On the left side of the lake stood the giant, partially covered with ice sheet, guarded by one or two mountains in the front. The guard mountain, adjacent to the lake, had a bare texture with few shrubs growing here and there. As I expressed my mind to try going closer to the glacier mountain, I was joined in the pursuit by the fellow trekker. We began our ascent by the side of the lake. There was no clear trail to go up from that side. Half way up the mountain, I realized that I am not completely devoid of acrophobia, especially when there is a lake at the base of the mountain (don’t know swimming yet 😐 ). Anyway there was no going back. When we reached the top of the guard mountain, the sun began to set in. I found out there was still a mountain to cross before we could step on the glacier mountain. We decided to descend to our camp. In the hindsight, I knew ‘Be sure to think about getting down, before climbing up a mountain’.

The second opportunity appeared on the second-last day of the trek. It was a rest day since we had trekked 23 km the previous day. We had our camp set near Gangabal lake. The lake is situated at the base of the magnificent glacier – the harmukh peak. The guide told us that it’s the highest glacier in that region. The peak of the glacier was eclipsed by clouds. I, along with a fellow trekker, decided to trek as close as possible to the glacier. We informed the trek guide about the direction we chose to trek in. We also asked them to look for us after 3 p.m. We started from our camp site a little late around 11 a.m. after the lazy morning. First hurdle on our way was a brook flowing to the lake. The flow was fast and the rocks were slippery. We managed to cross it safely after spending more than 30 minutes looking for an ideal spot to cross it. We trekked for next two hours before we reached a beautiful cliff. The rocks on that cliff made a natural throne like structure. It was an idyllic spot. The large lake looked so tiny from that height. Our tents were difficult to spot. We could see the glacier clearly from that place though we were still one or more mountains away from it. That’s what I experienced; mountains deceive our perception. The peaks always felt so close but were still so far away. We had a granola bar in lunch and decided to return since we were already late. We reached back to the camp at 5 p.m. just before the trek leaders began to look for us.

IMG_20160929_125911.jpgThe Harmukh glacier 🙂

I couldn’t reach the glaciers but those journeys were worth the efforts. 🙂

Mountains are magnificent natural creations but they are harsh too. After all; nature doesn’t bend its rules for anyone.

Adventures are good but we better be sagacious to know when to turn back because it’s always about the journey.

Enjoy trekking 🙂

On your mark. Get set. Go.

The first time I participated in a competitive running event outside my school was the Athletics Regionals. I was in class 7th. I was selected for the 400 meter category. The Regionals meet was held at B.S.F. Chhavni camp. It was my first time running on a circular track. I was uncomfortable with the whole idea of all the participants starting from a different mark in their specific circles. The race began. Just few meters before the finish line, I stopped and walked away from the track. My school senior, Priya, who was one of the best athlete in the meet and whom I admired a lot, came to me and asked ‘why’. I told her that since I knew I was finishing 4th, it didn’t matter as I was not getting a rank. That’s when I learned my first lesson from running. She said “You always finish a race – no matter what.

I had a predisposition for short-distance running. I was a sprinter and less of an endurance athlete. That’s why when I first got the opportunity to run a 2.7 km race in first year of my college, I couldn’t sleep through the night. I kept wondering if I could do it or not. Next morning, two hours left for the race, I heard this voice from within ‘Agar aaj ye nahi karegi, to kabhi kuchh nahi karegi’ (If you won’t go for this today, you’ll never do anything ever). That was all I needed to get out of the bed. I went to the event. And I won. That’s how my love affair with long distance running began.

I started running long distances. We had a beautiful campus. I loved running on the road, the 3 km distance around the campus. The music from my favorite playlist bursting in my ears and the sun setting in – it was my idyllic track for running (Until last year when I visited Kashmir. In Srinagar, there was a road with Dal Lake on one side of it and the mountains on the other. I just couldn’t get the thought of running on that road out of my head. I experienced cycling on that road but not running. May be someday! 🙂 ). In my college third year, I participated in my first long distance event of 10 km run organized in Hyderabad city around Hussain Sagar lake. I finished in 59 minutes 45 seconds.

My energy and moods seem a lot like my dad’s. So when I came back home after the 10 km race in Hyderabad, I told my dad about the marathons being held in almost all metropolitan cities. I asked him to participate in such events since I wanted him to become more social by being part of such a community. And you bet that was the best thing I did. I ran my first half marathon (21 km), Delhi Heritage Half Marathon in 2014 with my dad and my brother. My brother and I finished in 2 hour 12 minutes while my dad finished in 2 hours and was waiting for us at the finish line. I must admit though; it was a little embarrassing. Since then, I didn’t participate much in running events though I continued running. But my dad ran almost all the half marathons and full marathons (42 km) held in Delhi N.C.R. in the last two years. In fact, he even participated in Duathlon events which involve a combination of running and cycling. Last year, he participated in Laddakh Half Marathon. He continues to inspire not only me but so many other youngsters he meets in these events.

IMG_20170223_115002.jpgDISCLAIMER: All these medals hanging in my home belong to my dad. My brother and I have made no contribution whatsoever to these 😉

So what did I learn from running so far?    

Running taught me many lessons. Running is a lot like life. It’s all about breathing. You just need to continue taking one step after another at your own pace. And whenever you feel tired, slow down a bit, take deep breaths and continue. Or may be smile at someone along the way or enjoy the beauty around you. Because it’s your race, just like life, its your journey to make sense of. 🙂

P.S.: My dad registered me for the Delhi Heritage Half Marathon scheduled on 12th March this year. Almost 2 years later, its the same event where I ran my first half marathon. I hope to resume participation in running events in 2017. 🙂

Teach For India fellowship selection experience

The first step of the selection involved completing the online application form. The online application was a holistic and prolix questionnaire. It had questions about my educational qualifications, professional experience and the basic info. The most intriguing and interesting part of the application was writing the three essays. The essays encouraged me to ponder over my leadership and commitment qualities, my understanding of excellent education and my motivation to join the fellowship. As I got to know further in the process, Teach For India places a lot of emphasis on leadership. Immediately after submitting my application, I received an email briefing about the next step. I had to take a one and half hour long test within next 4 days. The test had basic aptitude questions and situational questions a fellow can face as a teacher. After the test, I received an email that I will be informed about the status of my application within next two weeks.

As mentioned I was intimated about the timing and the interviewer for the next round which was a telephonic interview. The purpose of the call was to gain more understanding about some of the things that I mentioned in my application. It went for around 20 minutes.

Within few days from my telephonic interview, I was informed about my selection for the last stage which was a full day assessment event. My assessment center was a public school in Vasant Kunj, Delhi. A weekend prior to the assessment day, I attended a webinar with 10 of the other applicants and one of the lead from the Teach For India team. It was held to address our queries and brief us about the activities scheduled.

On the assessment day, I reached the venue around 8 in the morning. I met other participants. We were close to 40 people. What piqued my attention was our diverse backgrounds. I met students, professionals – teachers, engineers, marketing managers, I.A.S. aspirants. Everyone had a different story. Soon the Teach For India staff arrived. Most of them were City Managers who had previously completed the fellowship.

The day began with an introduction round, followed by a doubt clarifying session. After this, we were divided into different groups of 5-6 for the rest of the activities. Each group was assigned a Staff Member to evaluate the members.

The first activity was a five minute teaching demo. I tried to explain evaporation by practically demonstrating the evaporation of acetone (although not so conspicuously visible in the stipulated time frame in the Delhi winter). I really liked the demo of one of my group member who explained addition by making us play a game which involved each one of us (As easy as it sounds to know to add, it is not easy to teach a nescient kid for the first time).  It was a fun activity. Later I came to know that one of the member who was teaching water cycle was questioned by the Staff Member acting as a kid ‘Teacher, Meri mummy to kehti hai ki barish Bhagvan karta hai.’ (But my mom says God brings the rain ). 😀

The next activity was group discussion. We were given a situation where we had limited hours and had to decide the student development activities we would like to include in those hours. Each one of us had to defend a different activity which required a fixed number of hours. In the last 5 minutes, the evaluating person exacerbated the conditions by reducing the number of hours available to us. It was important to reach a consensus. It was a great exercise.

After the group discussion, we had lunch break. Post the lunch, the shortlisted candidates were scheduled for the Personal Interview round. We were about 15 left. I had my one hour interview with two of the City Managers. The interview was mostly about understanding my plans and commitment for the fellowship. The highlight of the interview was the role play where the interviewer played the role of a reluctant Principal and I had to convince her, as a fellow, for an idea that she found trivial. My feedback for the role play from the interviewer helped me discover that though I was very solution oriented in my approach, I was not very comfortable in getting out of my comfort zone to find out the reason of the ‘No’ from the Principal. That was a hard hitting epiphany. The day ended with the interview.

Within a week from the interview, I received a call from one of my interviewer informing me about my selection. Overall, Teach For India fellowship process was very smooth and a self-learning experience.

Hope this helps. 🙂

 

Excellent Education

“Every child deserves an excellent education.”  -Vision of Teach For India

As I was writing my application for Teach For India Fellowship 2017, I began to ponder what this phrase excellent education really stands for. It reminded me of all those times when I cribbed about everything that, I felt, is wrong with our education system.

Born in an Indian Air Force family, I completed my twelve years of schooling in Kendriya Vidyalayas. These years spanned across four different Kendriya Vidyalayas situated in – Hasimara (West Bengal), Jamnagar (Gujarat), Gwaliar (Madhya Pradesh) and Hindon (Uttar Pradesh). Over the course of years, I met people from different schools and boards – Army Schools, Sainik School, Private Schools, I.C.S.E. board, State boards (though yet to meet someone from International Baccalaureate 🙂 ). One thing that I found common among majority of us was our apprehensions about the practical relevance of our education system.

The National Curriculum Framework, 2005 puts tremendous emphasis on the need to bridge the gap between what children are taught in school and their world outside the school that they live in. As mentioned by the curriculum writers in many of the N.C.E.R.T. textbooks, the biggest challenge faced by them is to understand who is the child they are addressing. In a nation as diverse as India, the answer can be any of this –  a child in big cities of the metro, or the schools in the slums, a small town child, one in the village-shala or one in the remote mountains and many more. On similar grounds, it won’t be hyperbolic to say that its not easy to define what an excellent education would look like. Since it can mean different things for children growing in different sections of society. Yet in this post, I have tried my best to envisage what an excellent education would look like in my utopian ideology; keeping in mind the differences that diversity brings in.

The purpose of education is to create individuals who can take care of themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and financially and also take care of each other as well as of the other species and our planet Earth. An excellent education would empower individuals to lead their life to happiness – wherever it lies for them.

Education should serve as a tool to cultivate values which help individuals to seek a happy life in the world they live in. There are four values that I find essential in seeking a fulfilling life.

Curiosity – You must have noticed how kids often keep bombarding the adults around them with their questions? Curiosity is one of the differentiating trait in children and adults. As we grow old, we stop questioning, hence, in turn, stop learning and find life around us quite monotonous. We should nurture curiosity. We might not always have the answers to all the questions asked. But that should not be a reason to discourage questions. In fact, we need to teach that its okay to be ignorant of something as long as we are willing to seek out. Kristen Hadeed explains the role curiosity plays in our lives quite vividly  in this Ted Talk.

Leadership – Leadership is not only about guiding others. But its about being able to make choices in your life with the best of your abilities and then taking accountability for the consequences. Thus, every individual can lead his/her own life. As adults we often find ourselves hesitant to take decisions in our lives even if we are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Leadership is for everyone.

Resilience – We need to raise individuals comfortable in failing and trying again. Learning is a complex and repetitive process. We don’t get the right solutions for every problem in the first attempt. We need to master the ability to try, fail, learn and bounce back to try again in order to achieve whatever we want to. More often than not, our biggest fear to not try our ideas and hence, not reach our full potential is the fear of failure.

Interdependence – Compassion is what we need to teach since the beginning. We have been given this wonderful opportunity to experience life on this fascinating planet Earth. And what makes us even more fortunate is that we, as human beings, are far more intelligent than other species inhabiting the planet. We need to develop the conscience to think how our actions affect not only us but the other species and the Earth. Its more likely for a civil engineer to take into account sustainability if he/she has grown aware of the importance of our ecosystem. Also we need to remember always that we are here to grow together and share love and happiness. We need to learn to help others around us as well as be comfortable in asking for help when we need it.

These values play a crucial role throughout our lives. But it takes time to program our minds to  these values and the sooner we plant these seeds, the better position we are in to make the best of our lives. We can come up with different ways to include these values in our education but that’s another topic.

This is my understanding of excellent education. I would love to hear any suggestions, insights from your experience on what an excellent education would look like.

P.S.: I got selected for the Teach For India Fellowship 2017. To know about the details of the selection process/experience, read this.