It all started in the first week of August 2014, with a trip to Aurangabad, Maharashtra to attend my first ASER National Workshop. On the 10th of September, we had the District Level Training with students from Martin Luther Christian University. We had students from different parts of the North-East. Very few were locals or could understand Khasi, the local language.
As the day for the first phase of the survey finally arrived, I had to get up very early to meet up with the students and take them to the stations where they could get transportation to go to their assigned villages. The reason why I had to do that was because most of my volunteers were not Khasis. When all of them had gone, I too left for a nearby village to start the monitoring. During the time in the village the volunteers did a great job explaining the survey and testing the children. The people in the village were very friendly and cooperative. We stayed there till around 7p.m and even got the much needed tea and snacks from the last house we went to on that day. As soon as I reached home, I called up all the volunteers to check how the survey went and saw to it that they all reached home safely.
The second day, I had to go to another village which falls in Sohra Block ie. Cherrapunjee Block, the village’s name is Laitryngew. The volunteers who went to this village set a RECORD of ONE house only on the first day. The reason was, it was raining heavily and they were drenched from head to foot. Even the map that they drew got wet and they had to draw it again properly. As I explored the village with the map that was drawn, I almost got lost and I was very confused because I could not see properly. The whole village was covered with fog with a slight drizzle every now and then, which made it a very romantic moment. As hours rolled by, the skies cleared up and off we zoomed with our work. One of the saddest things we found out was that the parents told me that they might have to stop their children going to school because there was no more income to support the family since they had banned coal mining.
During the second phase I monitored two villages. On the first day I went to Mawkhan which is in Mawsynraw Block which was one of the most beautiful villages I have visited- the people and landscape. In order to reach the village, we had to go down a steep hill which took more than an hour. By the time we reach the bottom of the hill, our legs were shaking, but once we poured cold water on our feet it stopped. The villagers were very friendly and they would offer us either tea or pan whenever we entered their houses. While surveying in this village, there were no children in the first three to four houses that the volunteers entered by following the “left hand rule” and the “fifth household rule”. The reason was that the children would go to another village to study after completing class 4. It was already dark when we left the village, as we started climbing up the steps, it became darker and darker as we had to go through a forest area, but again, it was a beautiful journey back up as there was a full moon and the stars were twinkling brightly. At one point of time I got scared, because one of our volunteers could not walk anymore and collapsed, but thank God, he recovered and we reached back safely after which he said, “I feel like a Gladiator who has just beaten my opponent.” And this time his opponent was the flight of steps he had to climb up. After reaching safely to another village where were staying, we rested for a while and headed out to a place where there was a spring water coming out of the rocks and we had our bath there.
On the second day, right after breakfast we head to Mawkaphan which also falls in the same block as the previous village. The village elder in this village was also helpful; he along with another youth in the village accompanied us from household to household making it easier for our volunteers to draw the map and do the survey.
The third and final phase of the survey, we (the volunteers and I) went down to the villages near the Bangladesh border. We reached Shella market at 9a.m, and the sun was scorching hot that we sat down in one corner with our bedding and baggage and drank a lot of ice cold water as we waited for our guide to come pick us up. We kept our things in the house where we were supposed to stay and headed towards Dhorom, the village where we had to survey. By noon, all of us were exhausted because of the heat and our complexions grew darker and darker, no amount of sunscreen with the highest SPF available would have worked. I told the volunteers to drink a lot of water. At the end of the day, when I checked the survey booklets, there were a lot of careless mistakes; I think the heat must have really hit them hard that day. Apart from the heat, the villagers cooperated well as they remembered the ASER team who went there last year. One thing I found out was that most of the children from 13 years and above don’t like to go to school (as told by the parents) because they prefer to work in the stone quarry where they can earn between Rupees 300 to 600 in a day. Once we returned back to the house where we were supposed to spend the night, we rested for a while as usual, before heading out to the river to have our bath and wash some of our clothes. The owner of the house provided us with a stove and utensils to cook for our dinner. One of the volunteers who was a good cook prepared dinner for us while the rest volunteered to wash the fish, veggies, utensils, etc. The scariest part of our stay in that particular house was the presence of scorpions, we caught one in the kitchen and saw a few more just outside the house.
Overall, ASER not only opened up my eyes, but I believe the eyes of every volunteer in my district about the education condition in my district. They were surprised to see that in some villages, children’s education has been badly neglected. Sadly, in most cases people do not work together to improve the education of their children, but they choose to blame one another. I personally believe that not only children, but even teachers need encouragement.
I thank God for ASER, because of it, I met people from different aspects of life. I did not just visit a village, but I got to know THE VILLAGE as a whole. As the great Rabindranath Tagore once said, “You cannot cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water.” I can see and say that ASER is doing its part to help and improve education here in India.
Kevin Donald Sawian
ASER Team, Meghalaya