Ananya Saluja is a senior in The Shri Ram School in Haryana who is busy studying for her board examinations. Post that, she wants to pursue Psychology as a subject for her Bachelors Degree. She has also been writing on her blog “Ananya Learns to Julley” and where she eloquently chronicles her summers spent in the scenic valleys of Ladakh. This seems like the perfect setting for a teenager’s life. School, hard work, examinations, ambition, vacations and a social media presence. But, a deeper look at her blog would quickly reveal to the reader that Ananya, her excursions and her blog is far away from being just the casual musings of a teenager’s vacation.
Ananya had exceptionally raised around Rs. 1.9 lakhs to help build a playground in the village of Matho and a library in Leh district. In fact, she has garnered six times that amount since 2016 for constructing 22 libraries all across remote villages in Kargil.
For her it all started in 2015 when she, as a part of her curriculum mandated community service, volunteered to mentor an underprivileged girl through her school for the Balwadi Programme. Moved by the experience and motivated to venture deep into the spectrum of education, Ananya travelled to Liktsey village and then to Turtuk and Tialing villages of Leh district to work with the 17,000 ft foundation, an organisation which works to improve lives of the people of remote, high altitude mountainous villages of Ladakh and was started by her ex-school teacher Sujata Sahu. Tasked with engaging children in educational activities, Ananya overcame unforgivable weather, adjusted to unusual living conditions, and won over unconvinced students through sheer diligence and will.
“No matter how much I do for them, they do double the amount for me”, Ananya fondly recollects her memories and the immaculate learning that the children there gave her. Ananya forged a connection with the children through simple gestures of good faith. Be it as simple as sitting with them during lunch time and eating with her hands or walking to and fro from school with them or letting them dress her up like a bride with jewellery made out of leaves; Ananya always gave them a free hand. “I never let them feel like I was their teacher”, she said. All this made it easier for her to communicate during book reading sessions and educate the children about the solar system and the human body using videos, role plays, puzzles, and charts.
Keen to make a broader impact in the lives of the underprivileged children living in one of the remote regions of the country, Ananya used her blog as a platform to raise funds and awareness through friends, family, and generous donors. She volunteered for a week, at Matho village near Leh in the following summer of 2016 and helped build a playground with the funds raised.
And she does not intend to stop here. With full support from parents and peers, Ananya at present is focused on raising money for building libraries in Kargil where 17000 ft Foundation has recently started to adopt and collaborate with rural schools. They have also had help from Pratham, an NGO which works on innovative low-cost educational solution and has supplied them with color-coded books for students with varying levels of understanding.
As her work continues to get recognized through accolades like the Pramerica Spirit of Community Award 2017 and positive word of mouth, Ananya aspires to expand her role within her recent efforts, including her next summer trip to Kargil. She has big plans for her future – a part of which, mainly concerned with her interest in studying clinical or developmental Psychology, stems from her life changing experience and expeditions in the valleys and villages of Ladakh. “Honestly, I sound a little selfish because I always want to go back to Ladakh. When I go back I get so much joy in seeing the smiles on their faces”, she fondly reminisced, “but the fact that I can do something for them is amazing”, resolve forming in her voice as she ponders the challenges ahead of her, which she knows won’t be solved in a couple of trips, but has helped start a change that was long in the making.
ABESH BERA | TOC
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