On a Trail of Hearts

by Dr. Sriram Devanathan
Monday, July 18, 2016 

The summer village internship program for Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham students, as part of Amrita SeRVe’s initiative on village development, was formally launched with an orientation session in April 2016, and two training sessions in May 2016. Over one hundred and sixty students, along with faculty guides and chaperones, embarked on what proved to be most fulfilling, memorable, and life-changing experiences.

I am one of the coordinators for Amrita SeRVe and a professor at Amrita University. After these young hearts had established themselves in their assigned villages for a few days, I set out to follow in their footsteps.

It is truly heartening and inspiring to see how quickly our students settle in, roll up their sleeves, and get to work. June is one of the hottest months in all these villages. Within an hour of their arrival in the village, the students blend in, establish a rapport, and have an instant connection with the children. Once that happens, it is as if the village children leave everything, and become appendages to our students for the reminder of their stay.

One of the highlights of the visits was to see that while there are common issues and problems across these villages, in the final analysis each one is distinct, with its own characteristics and features.

Thus, the presence of the students is extremely important in providing a close-up look, in both an objective sense (via surveys, data gathering and observation), and subjective sense (via interviews, focused group discussions, and participatory/immersive approaches).

These students are not really used to roughing it out. Many of them had to do their morning ablutions in a pond or river. Some had to sleep outside under a tree or on a terrace. Mosquitoes and flies were a constant presence, along with the relentless heat—day and night.

Yet, I did not see a single face that was discouraged by these challenging and exhausting conditions. All I saw were smiles. Equipped with training of just 3 days, they rolled up their sleeves and performed admirably, whether it was in constructing soakage pits, conducting door-to-door surveys, organising medical camps, tutoring, establishing or revitalising self-help groups, or liaising with villagers to provide access to government aid schemes.

With these and more, they established a heart-to-heart connection with the villagers. It was so strong a bond, that the villagers and the students are continuing to talk to each other over the phone even now. I was really fortunate to travel on this trail of hearts in service, and I savoured every moment.

While I spent perhaps just one day in each village, the closeness I developed was truly remarkable – upon my return, I had so many students sending me messages of “love you lots, sir”. Between the selfless and innocent love of the villagers on the one hand, and the charming love of the students on the other hand, what could be more fulfilling?

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