An ordinary looking school, relatively small in size like most in the rural belt of Rajasthan, was experiencing a surreally extraordinary vibe. A group of kids, clustered around the corner, were tinkering with regular household materials in an attempt to build a solar powered Lamp. These lamps would come as a gleeful respite to the intermittent and insufficient power supply that they witnessed every day. With every new gasp of excitement Ajay Kumar – Founder of Teach for Green – gasped himself and could see his childhood getting fixed.
Born in Daltonganj, Jharkhand, India to a middle class family, the frequent power cuts had often marred Ajay’s quest for knowledge while he was in school. The tenth grade district topper always wondered what could be an innovative way to bring an end to the energy crisis. The inquisitiveness led him to do research on Bio Fuel and Green fuel during his graduate studies.
Post his graduate studies, Ajay got selected for the Youth for India Fellowship and started working with the Aga Khan Rural Support Program(India) in Bihar. His understanding of Solar Power and its long term capabilities helped him unravel a gaping hole in solar power implementation in rural Bihar. He envisioned that his team would develop a prototype and then educate the people on the ways to harness solar energy for collective use. He wanted to bring in participation of the community because he believed it’s impossible to make it sustainable without their involvement.
Teach For Green founders Ajay Kumar (Left) and Abhishek Kumar (Right)
So, with a small contribution from each family they started working on this project. By the end of the project, there were 2 LEDS and a Mobile Charger each in 35 houses; a monumental step for a hamlet that rarely saw a continuous power supply. The news of this successful pilot project reached Aga Khan Rural Support Program(India) . They asked them to replicate this model to 50 nearby villages.
Infused with a new enthusiasm – after witnessing an unconventional concoction of community participation for a greater cause – Ajay applied for the India Fellow Leaders Fellowship citing an interest to work with an enterprise ‘Mera Gaon Power’ to gain more understanding and insight about the Solar Grid system. However, he found out an appalling and sad truth. The government schools of the villages, where he was working and planning to implement Solar power innovation with the help of the community, were in a sorry state of affairs. Students from standard 8th were unable to write their own names. How can he claim Solar Power to be a source of light, if the future of the rural communities was looming in darkness?
Thus, Ajay started conducting science workshops on weekends to teach kids about the fundamentals of science. He witnessed that students were mostly stuck in the nuances of a theoretical framework. Hence the need of a better framework was identified which could entail experiential education to them. It was important that these students take back home practical solutions for their current problems, thereby penetrating education centric solutions to the society. Ajay eventually teamed up with 3 more like minded people to form Teach for Green – an initiative that provides essential learning, training and skill development in a child’s life to help them find solutions for grassroot problems.
Using the advantage of educational diversity within the team – spanning Engineering, Zoology, Geography, Mass Communication and Public Health – they developed a curriculum. The curriculum was for students of standard 7th and 8th which would transverse four verticals namely, Engineering, Environment, Agriculture, Health.
The interactions with students and Teachers were fruitful. With time, they partnered with 10 schools – from both Urban and Rural communities – where workshops were held once a week. These would include audio-visual cues, small sessions and model making. The students were also given social experiments and tasks like a plastic audit (to determine a locality’s usage of plastic in a day) or an agriculture audit (to determine the plant/agriculture/greenery around their houses). Another social experiment that lead to a solution was the introduction of Kitchen gardening in the workshop. The empty spaces in schools in Rajasthan were used up by students to cultivate food and utilize the organically grown vegetables in the mid-day meals. When this news reached the parents, they also started working in the backyards of their houses.
“We try to address pressing issues in the society. We did a Plastic Free Drive in Delhi, a cracker free drive in 2016 and one drive about waste segregation and management with students. Essentially, our approach is to spot a pressing issue in the society/ community and then channelize the solutions via children.” Says Ajay.
For their work, Ajay and Abhishek – another co-founder of Teach for Green – were part of a yearlong learning and leadership journey, called Changelooms. Designed and implemented by Delhi based organisations Pravah and Commutiny – The Youth Collective and supported by Oracle, Changelooms supports early stage social entrepreneurs. “In addition to the seed fund it gave to manage initial costs, I also learnt immensely about organizational development – on how to acquire greater skills while working for the organization. Interactions with other Changeloomers who shared their experiences helped me gain more insights about working with a team. To be honest, it always brought new opportunities to learn and evolve from”, adds Ajay.
The organization has recently taken up a project with the Government of Uttarakhand to work with 30 schools and 4 villages facing problems regarding water, irrigation, organic agriculture and waste dumping. In the coming year, they are planning to take up Model Making initiatives in more sites of Rajasthan and Delhi. The intention is to collectively solve rural and urban issues by facilitating student participation.
“We have a direct engagement with 2000 students, and indirect reach to 10,000 students while working with close to ten communities. However, the challenge lies in expansion of activities on a larger scale without tampering the quality. It undoubtedly requires time, effort and involvement. We would be happy if anybody wishes to get associated with us in any capacity.” says a hopeful Ajay.
If you are interested in tinkering, interaction with children and solving pertinent social issues, you can contact Ajay here.