ASER’s volunteers

 by Nandita Banerjee

My first ASER Survey and I was sent to Nagaland for a whole month! I knew little about the state and was eager to learn. I covered four districts in Nagaland and found the villagers to be friendly and surprised that I had travelled all the way from Delhi for this survey.

It is common for villagers in Nagaland to send their children to the town to study. On weekends the children return to their villages traveling mostly by foot, to help their parents or grandparents with the farming. Even if the children stay in the village and attend school there, they head to the fields right after school and join their parents in farming. On Sundays, the families attend the services at the church. So, to find children in households we had to start our day very early to meet them i.e. before school started. Waking up to the rooster’s call and the breath-taking sight of the green hills hugged by clouds we would set out to the village. While most villages are accessible by road, the road conditions are very bad. To reach some villages we had to walk few kilometres. After a few cups of black tea and our household survey done we would plan the next steps. The day would end early too and I would be back in my room between 1800-1830 hours. I would eat my meals usually with the volunteers or at one of the villager’s house. The variety of food I ate is another interesting story! Eating together in the big kitchen we would exchange information and discuss our views on education, women, employment, religion, government etc. So every day I would learn something – about their land, tribes, languages, food, aspirations and culture. 

ASER 2013 volunteers in Nagaland
Education, especially higher education is considered very important in Nagaland. However, those who complete their graduation and post-graduation have limited options for employment within the state. In Nagaland, there are several tribes and generally different tribes occupy different districts in the state. Since family and tribal affiliations run deep, people are reluctant to relocate to other districts. So, many relocate to the bigger cities in India. Living in bigger cities comes with its own challenges and I could imagine how different and isolated it must be for those who relocated as well as for the families left behind. Some volunteers told me that, while they struggled with this issue, participating in the ASER Survey provided them with interim relief. In fact many of the volunteers I met were participating in the survey for the second year. It gave them something constructive to do while they awaited results from an examination for a government job or any other employment opportunity. According to the volunteers, the survey brings to the forefront the differences within the tribes which is usually overlooked, dispelling the assumption that there exists homogeneity within a tribe. These learnings they felt would always come handy in their career afterwards.

So, while the youth of Nagaland wait for things to change in their state, by way of engaging in activities such as the ASER Survey, they are making their presence felt and keeping their morale high!