Contributor: Prof. Gautam Saha, Dept. of Electronics & Electrical Communications Engineering, IIT Kharagpur
A third of the IIT KGP freshman community certainly had an exceptional experience this winter. The annual National Service Scheme (NSS) camp for this year was based at village Shyameshwarpur under Gopali Gram Panchayat of Kharagpur Block I. Activities were also carried out at neighbouring villages, Sholadahar and Nachna. A total of 553 first-year students participated in this one-week long camp that started on 28th November.
Having to arrive by 7 a.m. at the campsite and stay on till past 4 p.m., the volunteers initially had an arduous time. “The first day was really difficult,” Saurabh Mishra, studying at the Dept. of Civil Engineering, from Allahabad confessed. “But as the days progressed, I was surprised that I had started enjoying the camp entirely”.
The first day of the camp witnessed a rally through the village, intended to raise awareness on common social issues via posters, created by the students themselves. A workshop on the principles of First-Aid and the basic know-how of dealing with accidents was conducted on the following day. The next few days were dedicated to advisory and guidance sessions for the volunteers. “The talk on stress management has really changed me,” one camper remarked. “I am very optimistic about the next semester”.
From a pre-camp need-based survey, two villages were identified for cloth distribution and conducting a medical camp for the needy. Old clothes, collected by volunteers from houses within the institute campus a few weeks prior, were distributed freely to approximately 250 villagers of Sholadahar and Nachna. A medical camp was held at Sholadahar, where more than fifty villagers received treatment for free by a team of qualified doctors. The prescribed medicines were also given away free of cost.
In Shyameshwarpur, a team of students worked on clearing a 300-meter stretch of kaccha road, which was impassable due to overgrown thickets and bushes. A villager was pleased about the work completed near her house. “The work is much better than what even paid workers could have done,” she commented in Bengali.
Many students worked on creating much-needed drainage systems within the village. “The work was hard, but we are thoroughly satisfied,” Supreeta Sen, from the Dept. of Chemistry said, grinning. “This place was very rugged and rocky. But it was worth it”. Her team had successfully dug two-feet-deep channels providing drainage to several blocks of houses. Other teams worked on other parts of the village.
The village panchayat identified a parcel of land to develop fruit orchard. The otherwise barren land was of the size of three football grounds. A few teams worked there to do the groundwork for plantation. They dug ground at specified distances, cleared bushes and weeds and made the field ready. This orchard is expected to generate more income for the village. Another team dug deeper into an existing pond aiming to harvest rainwater better.
A street play session, fondly titled the Nukkad Natak, was conducted on the fourth day, addressing the grave social issues that are still found lurking in a modern era. From writing script to conducting the rehearsal and finally, performing the play in front of all was a challenge as most never acted in any play before. The quick learner they are, each team performed well and admits that this was one of the most memorable experiences of the camp.
The counseling centre, IIT Kharagpur, held a talk on substance abuse. Members from St. John Ambulance used mannequins to demonstrate the First-Aid and CPR principles in the camp. Dr. T. K. Bhunia, an Ophthalmologist at Kharagpur sub-divisional government hospital, also addressed the volunteers briefly.
The camp has led to IIT students from all walks of life, all from distant corners of the nation, to come together and volunteer to help the underprivileged. “Our purpose in holding the camp is to make our students aware of the realities of life in rural India,” said Prof. Arghya Deb, Program Coordinator of NSS IIT Kharagpur, when asked for his perspective on the camp. “When I see the enthusiasm with which most of the campers have approached their allotted tasks, I think we have to a large extent achieved this goal.”
While sharing camp experience campers talked about how the camp helped them to connect to India that was largely unknown to them. Now, they can empathize better with the vast majority who are disadvantaged on many counts. Working for a cause and in a backdrop like this helped them develop a rich bonding with fellow students.
Writing camp diary was a part of the daily exercise in this camp. Navonil Natta Barman, a Mechanical Engineering student hailing from North Bengal writes, “The penultimate day of the camp began with the excitement of being able to go home soon. While we were working, we were asked to share our experience at the NSS camp. We all gathered and began to share our experiences. The leaders stated how NSS has brushed their leadership skills. Everyone put forward various aspects but one thing was globally accepted, i.e. the NSS gave us a new family. Although I knew we were all going to meet again in a month’s time, I was emotional for a while.”
The regular activities of NSS IIT Kharagpur comprise of weekly three hours of work in twenty villages and slums of our neighbourhood.