The Optimist Citizen

This duo is turning rural dropouts into changemakers in Madhya Pradesh

A substantial portion of the urban youth is embroiled in deliberation and public discourse like never before. Right from cutting back on their caffeine consumption and filing taxes to choosing the next step for our curriculum on primary education, urban youth are right in the thick of things. But, often this demographic tag of urban wades back, the substantially present, yet mostly undetected ‘rural’ part of our youth. We often tend to forget the fact that, our rural and semi-urban youth too have an important role in the growth story of India. But, the rampant strides by the youngsters of Timarni, a small town in Madhya Pradesh, are standing firm on issues that matter to them. They are openly deliberating on issues and are contributing to a tangible social change in their own right.

The phenomenon is anchored in the story of Madhur and SHEDO. Madhur came from a lower middle-class family in Timarni where he had restricted access to information and consequently, limited access to opportunities. But, an infectious surge of curiosity always gripped him and limitations never held him back from discovering and re-discovering himself. Madhur had been a participant of the 10-month long journey called the Community Youth Forum (CYF). Here Madhur deliberated, hustled for his points, intently listened to others, connected with like-minded individuals, and understood that he might develop what is called in popular circles, ‘thinking outside the box’. The Journey helped him lunge the proverbial ‘box’. Madhur grew confident and became certain of his career choices and the clarity with which he sees his future. He discovered his strength, what truly interested him, and was ready to take action in that direction.

Image : SHEDO

Along with his own, steadfast self-determination, SHEDO has been supporting Madhur and hundreds of youth like him, silently yet with an evident bang in their impact. The origin of SHEDO (Social Health and Education Development Organisation) can be traced back to the life experiences of Ritesh Gohiya and Sunil Pal who utilized their life learnings, as a mirror for this mission. As a child, Ritesh could never fit into the standard mould of a typical school system. He felt that his thoughts were not on pace with his seemingly still surroundings. Over the years, he developed an interest for Art and Music and started experimenting it with a tangible process of thought. He initiated workshops as a means of expression in reaching out to clusters of youth in his area.

Thus, SHEDO journey too started with an aim to invent a new musical note for the youth in that area. Upon closer observation, they started discovering cases of school dropouts, exclusion and wasted potential; some were even thrown into the acerbic cauldron of child labour. This was when SHEDO rolled out ‘Taleem’ (Hindi for teaching or more broadly education), primarily for school dropouts and where the pedagogy is designed using music and arts. But with time other subjects were added. Eventually, some 224 lessons were designed in a way that they would benefit a student of any grade. The objective was to enable the child to connect to what he is reading. The impact was seen not only rise in a number of children getting admission to schools but also in the expansion of the knowledge base of those children who couldn’t fit in the existing school education system.



SHEDO primarily works in the field of youth development, social inclusion, and active citizenship. They have other programs like Community Youth Forum which acts as a multifaceted platform working on a tri-dimension of Deep Self Awareness, Social Inclusion and Constitutional Awareness. Further, As the founder of SHEDO Ritesh Gohiya puts it, “This 10-month journey of Community Youth Forum focusses on career building of the participants. The participants are asked what they wish to do, the motive or intention behind doing it, they are made to introspect and reflect upon their choices. Basically, they are taught to be an active citizen regardless of their choice of profession. Some of them have gone for journalism while some have opted to study business. As a part of this journey, they make a plan for giving back for future batches to come. They contribute in whichever way they can, from funding to organizing workshops. So far this model has successfully brought out what was previously unexpected of a kid from a small town or village”.

Image courtesy: SHEDO

These efforts have been successful in bringing small impacts on the community at large. What’s interesting to note is the fact, the program has not only created a scenario for choice but has also established a dialogue between children and their parents. Instead of the customary imposition, parents now listen to what their child has to say.

Their efforts were given a long-term plank to float upon, with the help of the Pravah Changelooms – Learning and Leadership journey. Pravah Changelooms is a fellowship implemented by Delhi based youth development organisation Pravah, supported by Oracle, for support early-stage social entrepreneurs in developing their leadership skills and empowering them to become agents of social change.

Founders Ritesh Gohiya and Sunil Pal in discussion with the parents of rural youth | Image courtesy: SHEDO
Founders Ritesh Gohiya and Sunil Pal in discussion with the parents of rural youth | Image courtesy: SHEDO

The organisation has been able to complete 2 journeys of the Community Youth Forum, working directly with 20 youngsters and with 214 youngsters in the scope of their associated activities. In this gamut of large numbers and mounting statistics, SHEDO’s small numeric cohort might seem inconsequential. But, when Ritesh says that “Chote initiatives bade badlav laate hain (Small initiatives bring massive changes)”, you know his towering vision and statement stand strong, in an attempt to bring rural youth to a new platform of opportunities and rediscovery. You can get in touch with SHEDO here to be a part of the small, yet immaculately impactful initatives. 

This story is a part of our special segment ’36 Stories of Change’, in collaboration with PRAVAH.

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CII Foundation’s Woman Exemplar Program recognizes exemplary grassroots women change agents who are working to transform excluded and disadvantaged communities of India in the fields of education, health and micro-enterprise in India. Every year  15 finalists are chosen, and 3 are declared winners, with prizes of Rupees 3 Lakhs to the winners and access to a six-month mentoring and leadership process to all finalists. Click Here to know more.


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