In Lucknow, when the three of us met to discuss ASER in Kerala, the first question I asked Soumya when she explained the nitty gritties of the survey was this: “Is everyone this happy about doing the survey?”
I am sure, back then; I must have taken her by surprise when I popped ‘that’ question out of nowhere. But like everyone else, Soumya reiterated what I had heard over the past nine days of training. “It is a steep learning curve. You shouldn’t miss it. It is an experience and it will change you.” I nodded my head, fairly unconvinced. After two years of journalism, it was impossible for me to believe that the survey was a result of mutual trust. How exactly do people send hundreds of people out in the field to every nook and corner of the country with the hope that they would return with data?
A month later, I am on the phone talking to trainers, volunteers, ASER state team members and central team members. I am also writing a mail as I speak, sorting my bills and planning the next DLT in my head. And as I pause to sit back and write this, I realise the changes in my attitude.
In spite of the massive trust invested in hundreds of individuals, ASER was unfolding quite uneventfully and on time. People including me, were connected to one another even when most of us across state borders have not had the chance to meet and compare notes. We all seem to care about the end. All of us wanted everyone to be motivated. On more than one occasion, I toyed with the idea of being a surveyor in Kerala simply because I wanted the data to be that clean and that perfect. So how did the cynicism fade?
When you get on the road to do ASER, no one tells you to do what is expected of you. The expectation, if there is any, is simply this: “Learn on the go, and learn you will”. For example, I never thought planning a survey meant decisions ranging from choosing a partner to finding a printer next to the training hall. No one at ASER will brief you on how you should be going about talking to partners, volunteers and trainers when you are entrusted with the task of doing so. They will also not give you any how-to-plan-survey-in-your-state-in-ten-steps manual. And this, I believe, is the beauty of this magnificent process that starts and ends with people.
Most importantly, ASER tells you to trust people. Trust the surveyor, the trainer, the man sitting next to you on the bus even if your past experience tells you to remain aloof. Believe that the people you work with are allies. Believe that we are here for a purpose that does bring a change, a much needed one.
Communications Associate, ASER Centre