Naveen Godiyal was born in the mountains, but grew up in Jodhpur, Rajasthan. When he returned to the mountains many years later as a teacher, he did not like what he saw. “As an English teacher, I saw that the English education standard for the children was at a low ebb. I wondered if I could do something for their betterment. Children in the mountain needed good comprehension of English and that’s where the idea of teaching English by volunteering came about,” he says.
Drawing from his experience as a ‘volun-toursim’ coordinator in Jaipur; as a consultant at the Hardik Jariwala Foundation; and as a seeds project coordinator at Navadanya Biodiversity Farm (pioneered by well-known activist Dr Vandana Shiva), Naveen started the Himalayan Volunteering Programme in 2016. This is a flagship programme under Another Point Of View Foundation(APOV), a registered NGO.
When asked if the sessions with students should be considered as workshops, Naveen clarifies. “What we do is less of a workshop and more of a regular class. The government has already prescribed a certain syllabus. Our concern was that the children were not being taught properly. If we could teach them the same syllabus but using creative and unique activities, then that would be best. Besides, we need to cooperate with the teachers as well and make their lives easier. Our programme is about helping them as well, but in a different way.” On an average, Naveen gets 50 to 60 volunteers a year from India and abroad to teach English to students in villages near Barkot town. Children are between the ages of 4 and 14, changing from school to school.
Volunteers can sign up on the Helping Himalayas website or express their interest through their Whatsapp number or postal mail. Once they have been accepted, they are given accommodation in a local homestay as well as meals. Once they arrive, they are given a schedule of the topics they must cover as well as the the time for classes, usually between 7 AM and 1 PM. After-school hours are free for them to explore the countryside. “With this organization, I want to promote the concept of travelling with a cause. Which is why we encourage our volunteers to explore the nearby villages and get to know the local people as well,” says Naveen. “The same goes for the students. When they meet people from varying backgrounds, they too are exposed to new perspectives.” He describes a conversation with one of his volunteers, a professor for University of Berkley, New York, where he emphasized the importance of coming out of one’s comfort zone. “It is only when we come out the box and explore with a cause, we can hope to understand life,” he surmises.
In the four years since the inception of Himalayan Volunteering Programmes, Naveen says he has received a lot of cooperation from both private schools and government-run schools. He cites the issue of non-attendance by teachers a major factor contributing to the fall in education standard. “In many government schools, the teachers will come for four days but may not show up for the remaining two days. I find that for a lot of them the passion is missing and they do not want to make a change.” Apart from English classes, they also conduct after-school Arts and Crafts workshops, depending on the proficiency and interest of the volunteers. Since the programme began, he has seen a significant improvement in the students’ confidence and ability to speak English. “Earlier they would blankly stare at the faces of the volunteers. I would have to translate things for them. Now, I see them speaking quite well and interacting with more confidence with the volunteers,” he says.
Apart from English education, Naveen also hopes to promote rural tourism and sustainability in the mountains. “Most people just do the chaar dham yartra, but what I hope to give them is a more in-depth and local experience,”he says. Since the concept of volun-tourism is a new one for the local people, Naveen has been handling all the logistics, operations and marketing himself. He looks forward to contributions and volunteers who can help him further his cause.
“I have not won a presidential award for my efforts, but the satisfaction and contentment I have got from this work is more precious than anything else. Even if a child is able to say one extra work or one more sentence, it is an achievement as far as I am concerned,” he concludes.
Giving Circle encourages and supports Naveen Godiyal in his effort to bring better quality of education to rural children in Uttarakhand, while also promoting responsible and sustainable rural tourism. Please extend your helping hand for the Himalayan Volunteering Programmes.