Self-sustainability is widely accepted as a principle of human development. Thus creation of independence is an important to uplift the underprivileged sections of our society. This is exactly what Lakshmi Ashram, a very unique form of school in Uttarakhand, intends to achieve. Situated at the base of Nanda Devi in Kamaon Hills, the Ashram has been working towards uplifting underprivileged girls from nearby villages by imparting education and teaching life skills. The Ashram was constituted by Sarlaben in 1964 and it runs on the idea of ‘Nai Taleem’, which was given by none other than the father of the nation – Mahatma Gandhi. The Ashram is not just a success story of good Samaritans, but also of creation of many more.
Approximately 70 girls live in the Ashram with their teachers, who they call “didi”. Each didi takes care of about 7-8girls.The Ashram inducts these girls without charging them any fees. It runs on charities by many donors, some from as far as Denmark.These girls cultivate skills for regular economic activities and other everyday necessities, like learning to grow vegetables, rearing animals, cooking, cleaning and even measuring temperature and rainfall. They work as team, with each team comprising of girls from the same age group.They keep rotating between different tasks and also attend classes for about four hours a day to learn subjects like mathematics, languages, sciences and social sciences. However, a key feature of these classes is the level of teacher-student interaction. The girls actively participate in classes by asking questions and discussing themes within various subjects hence developing their analytical skills and making them confident. The Ashram believes in the idea of learning by doing, hence their education is not limited to understanding spinning and growing cotton in textbooks, but they actually grow and apply their knowledge in practicality. After such grueling days, there is usually little time left for them for entertainment but they do express their creativity through skits and plays. The Ashram also encourages these girls to perform in nearby villages.The Ashram is unregistered which gives it flexibility to run on this unique format. However, nevertheless the girls do attempt board examinations with the help of the local board.
Many students of the Ashram graduated to become part of various NGOs while many returned to their villages to get marries. But some return to the Ashram as teachers after further training to cultivate a new bunch of confident and educated girls. The Ashram has significantly been able to create young confident women who now have important influence in their families and community. Thus this distinctive methodology has initiated a process of women empowerment, especially girls from the most disadvantaged sections of our society. The girls come from sections which are embroiled in issues of subjugation of female authority. This nurturing of idea that you not only have to empower yourself, but many like you around makes it a commendable effort by the Ashram to inculcate notions within minds of these girls which is missing from the public at large today. It also institutes a fact that there are other ways to give back to the society, and work on social issues than just formulating schemes for subsidies, changing textbook contents, protesting and marching with candles or shouting on primetime television debates.