Lighting of a Fire

I had been hearing about this place called Chhattisgarh for months. For the last 4 days I have been immersed. I landed here Sunday evening and ever since that day we have been on the road, traveling, listening and learning. I’m part of a 4 person team we are here to get a stronger sense of the ground realities prior to the implementation of a new skilling program targeting college students in Chhattisgarh. One of the nine states where my Office together with Tata Institute for Social Science (TISS) and the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports are initiating a pilot study to bring a reenergized version of the National Service Scheme (NSS) to India. NSS, is similar to AmeriCorps, founded over 40 years ago it is a voluntary program based in colleges where students opt to participate in extra training, service and community building. Building the capacity of India’s youth through service to their community – a noble cause and worthy program. The program has been effective and reaches millions of India youth each year. The pilot we are working to run is to bring skills development and integrate it into the fabric of NSS – thereby creating the National Service and Skill Development Scheme (NSSDS). For the past 4 months I have been sitting in an office in Bombay discussing and designing the framework for this program. What an amazing honor and privilege for me to have a chance to see how different designing a program is from implementing a program. Going from the office to the field and going from assuming to understanding. The 5 days of our field visits have left more questions than answers. We are hoping to run the program with the assistance of digital technology – this will require computers and a net connect. As we visited the Government Colleges where we will run the pilots I was amazed by what we saw – dedicated and proud staff, students hungry to learn and asking for the opportunity to do and see more. In one college due to lack of space the new computers they had received remained a storeroom in boxes. Only one of three colleges had a net connect but the other two said if they needed could get it. As I sat in the meetings, listened to the students, walked through the halls, all I kept thinking of the urgency of now. Education, quality education opens minds, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” It is through education that we discover ourselves and the world around us – and what a blessing and a privilege to have a chance to gain the type of education I have been given. What a gift. Education leads to context, awareness of self and society, skills for future employment and ultimately, hopefully a sense of self confidence. I want to snap my fingers and bring this to the children I met in the rural districts of Chhattisgarh over the past 4 days – but since I do not possess such magical powers I will settle for hard work. One stakeholder meeting at a time, we will build a program which enhances the educational experiences of the young men and women we have met. My travels over the past few days have inspired me to ask how development works in a rural economy. Can agriculture sustain a village? Should young people leave for better job opportunities or stay and sustain their family’s traditional way of life? Where will these young people work when they are done with college? What is the value of a degree if there is no assessment of the quality of education delivered? What are the options or girls who are to be married as soon as they are done with school? What does development look like and where do education and skills fit in? Where are all the jobs? I don’t know. I have no idea how to answer any of these questions – but I feel honored to be in a place and in a position where I can ask these questions. Where they will keep me up at night and I will wonder – how can I play a role in creating opportunities for the incredible young men and women in rural Chhattisgarh?

Gayatri Eassey is committed to making an impact and a difference in her community both in the United States and in India, both personally and professionally. She is passionate about education, democracy and women's empowerment. She enjoys traveling, taking pictures and spending time with friends and family. She is a dedicated advocate for educational equity and has worked for The College Success Foundation and as Associate Director for External Affairs for Seattle University's Career Services Office. She is the former Interim Executive Director for Career Services at Seattle University. Prior to working at Seattle University she served as Executive Director of City Year Seattle, and as special assistant for boards and commissions in the Office of Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire. She spent three years on the Seattle Community College Board of Trustees. She was the co-founder of the YWCA's Gen-Rising Committee, committed to engaging more young people in the critical work of the YWCA. Her additional experience includes work as a trainer for the National Democratic Institute in Amman, Jordan, preparing women to run for elective office. She has also served as political director for the Washington State Democrats. She recently completed a fellowship with the National Urban Fellows, America's Leaders of Change. She is a former board member for the Center for Women and Democracy, the Institute for a Democratic Future, and the Seattle Chamber of Commerce Young Professional Network. She was the Statewide President of the Young Democrats of Washington and a Fellow with the World Affairs Council of Seattle. She earned her MBA in 2012 and hopes to align her government and nonprofit background with her business education to support public private partnerships which provide mutual benefit and strengthen communities.

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