My story: From defying tradition to nurturing young minds

I would have been a snake charmer.

That is not something most people can say seriously. Me, I come from a family that charmed snakes as far back as generations go. But in these modern times our profession is nearing its end, rendered illegal by law yet captive in the grip of age-old superstition. Growing up in our small, closed community in a pocket of northern Delhi, I can confidently say this poses more problems than it does solutions.

As children, too few of us went to school and those that did were often ridiculed, choosing ultimately to remain in the relative comfort of home rather than endure the pointed jokes and uncomfortable silence our presence seemed to elicit.

For the longest time, my community was all I knew of life. It's why I vividly recall the first time I met someone from the outside. From the recesses of my home, I heard laughter and ventured out to see a strange man smiling and chatting with my neighbours. He didn't seem wary or ill at ease. I peered at him, immediately curious. He worked with Plan India and its local partner, Community Aid and Sponsorship Programme (CASP) and had come to visit as part of a community development initiative they'd begun in my locality.

Even a decade later, he was a fixture in our homes, just as I was at their project offices. I had started volunteering when I was about 16 years and stayed long after, drawn by the change they were affecting among often overlooked children and their communities - in health, education, the achievement of human rights.

Change, however good, isn't always easy. More so in our community, where we were shaking the foundation of all things our elders believed in. Initially, nobody spoke to us, or showed up to painstakingly organised community events. Slowly though, this changed. And in turn, I did too.

With every community activity that drew larger numbers, the messages we shared resonated deeper with me. This was reaffirmed daily by my neighbours (and their neighbours) starting to plan for their children's futures, embracing new avenues for their education and gainful employment.

So, when Plan India and CASP set up a vocational training centre, I signed up right away, working hard to excel at their intensive computer training programme. From a young age, I'd been exposed to technology through the project and knew of its potential to make development happen. By the end of my training, five years later, I graduated, intent on setting up a computer training institute for children, especially for young girls, in my community.

Technology provides access to information at light speed and information is arguably the first step towards change. This is truest by far, in the case of girls. In my experience, giving them access to technology and the rights tools drives both economic and social growth. I've seen this through my mother, sisters, wife and friends over the years and can only imagine the heights they would have scaled if equipped with technology earlier in the day.

Determined, I started out with four students and a single P-1 computer I'd saved up for years to buy! As much as I laugh about it now, I remember my pride buying my first computer for INR 2,000. I taught all my students on that trusty machine and felt a great sense of accomplishment when bright young kids took to technology in mere minutes. It motivated me to work harder and help them create better lives for themselves. 

Eight years later, my institute is doing better than ever. I've taught hundreds of children and can honestly say I feel much like their proud parents, who I often meet when I'm out and about. 

Of the institute's 90 trainees today, 35 are girls whom we teach for free. They are, by far, my most dedicated students! They tell me that when they grow up they're going to be scientists, doctors and explorers. They intend, like their good old teacher, to change the world, one click at a time.

If not for Plan India and CASP, I wouldn't be here today. I owe my life and profoundly fulfilling career to the start I got with them and on this Girls in ICT Day (April 28), I stand proud and humbled to have answered the clarion call of community development. It was my lifelong dream to empower girls and their communities through technology and I am fortunate that I get to live it every single day.