‘Kanavu’ means dreams – an audacious dream of a small team of 4 of us, living and working out of rural Cuddalore; dreaming of a transformed rural India where one’s circumstance doesn’t dictate destiny.
Is this really a dream that will see itself unravel into reality, one day?
What a tall claim we asked ourselves – in moments crippled by challenges, we asked ourselves is this really a dream that will see itself unravel into reality, one day? Some day? In our lifetime or beyond that? When we see that, in a lockdown following a pandemic, families are sharing kanji (rice broth) for 2 meals, simply because they have no cash or means to stock up. When we see that for families struggling to eat, how can mobile recharges become an essential expense? When we read that development work of 2 decades will be lost due to the pandemic or that 1 in 4 women may not come back to work post the pandemic, we feel stumped by the enormity of the challenges that lie ahead of rural India.
Ofcourse, this dream is sprinkling itself into our realties!
And then there are days, when our students smash the cripples of their circumstance and show us what is possible when an opportunity is presented – like a Divya lakshmi, grade 8 student who presented her reflections at a city conference hosted by Teach for India, where she shared how online learning is not really a choice for children like her, who are first generation learners, for whom school is the only space to learn and grow; Or when our team of mothers who stitch affordable lifestyle products under the brand ‘Sura’ stepped up and said they would learn how to stitch masks and do that, as a response to the pandemic- we see how despite a lockdown, these women rewrote their destinies. While their circumstance pushed them to a zone of no income, they fought back challenges of child care, family concerns about safety, safety protocols and started stitching cloth masks. These women have emerged as the only earning member for their families for a large part of this year.
Click here to order your stash of Sura products or know more about our work.
We watched how our communities fought the pandemic, with a sense of awe- for most parts, they viewed the pandemic as yet another challenge. For vulnerable communities that have always struggled with limited transport, long hours of power cut, threat of a medical emergency putting them in debt for years – this was yet another challenge, in their eyes, giving them immense courage to keep doing what needs to be done, to survive.
Travelling the path of purpose
This grit supported Kanavu to traverse the path of purpose – We saw ourselves raise funds and distribute dry rations to support families to meet their food requirements. We saw ourselves plunge into non-synchronous online learning, even before we learnt the vocabulary to talk about this! Purpose of meeting the needs of our teacher communities led us to share stories of technology gap and seek to bridge that gap. We made a lot of mistakes and grew comfortable with it- seeking to understand this game better. We knew we could never play it without making the mistakes we made.
This 2020, Kanavu’s tribe of champions grew – steadily over 3 months, we bridged the technology gap. Collectively, we put a smartphone in the hands of every one of our 60 teachers, supported her family with an emergency fund- to get through the uncertain months of lockdown. Purpose pushed us to move to supporting students with reading and writing materials and set up scholarship funds to support families to continue to keep children in school.
Click here to contribute to a student scholarship, ensuring a child continue her learning this year.
When we fought circumstances
We see how tall a claim this is, when we have families push back the notion of a woman having access to a smart phone – we see how big a battle it is for teachers to show up to work everyday. We see how we have fought circumstances in taking Kanavu and Sura places – from presenting at different collective spaces to working out shipping and sending products from the tiny Periyar nagar to America, Finland and Malaysia.
When we rose above the circumstances
We saw us rise and grow together- teacher teams have worked far apart physically but are more connected than ever before. ”Grade level groups have helped me the most to problem solve to reach my students,” says Annajothi miss who remarks how when school is running, we meet each other but never had the time to connect or problem solve together. We see how teachers who were very hesitant to use a laptop to show their students a learning video in school last year, now comfortably access videos, search information online and create learning experiences using a phone for their children.
We have seen teachers go from the restless anxiety of not able to reach children to squealing in delight when she has reached that one child who hadn’t responded in a week. We saw school leaders struggle to track student numbers to ensure each one of their grades 9 and 10 students complete student tasks for the term. Saw parents resist online learning to ask for some learning to continue, even as they were grappling with the effects of 2 cyclones that hit Cuddalore this year. We saw Sura women hold earning an income at the center of all decisions they made, even as the balancing act of a working mother got tougher with schools remaining shut this year. We solved more problems than before, constantly sharing that we have no answers and we will figure this out together.
What did Kanavu learn?
As we swung from days and moments feeling like the vision is a tall claim to vision coming alive in small pockets, what did we learn? We learnt the words to describe the world as we see it- VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) and what Kanavu will hold sacred in its response to this VUCA world.
We learnt that striving towards nurturing a culture of resilience; not stability gives us the courage to navigate the volatility. Growing our comfort in seeing ‘simultaneous truths’ helps us move with ‘agility’- in a largely uncertain and complex world. ‘Experiment’ and ‘express’ is at the core of our response to an ambiguous world – We have learnt to be serious about our ability to ‘play’ at work and take people along this game.
We are immensely grateful for every opportunity, connection, relationship and every challenge. We close out 2020 knowing we have collectively moved from surviving the year to thriving in the challenges and possibilities; flourishing in strong relationships. We are ready for 2021 – hop on and join us to transform rural India, so we can ensure that one’s circumstance doesn’t dictate their destiny.
Stay safe, distanced and deeply connected. Make dreams happen!