In 2010, Jaya and Atul Shah moved from Ahmedabad and began working for an NGO in Nainital. Three years later, the couple returned to their city only to realise that they belonged in the hills. “So we purchased a piece of land in a small village called Seem and after constructing our dream home, we settled there.”
Atul has worked with a number of construction companies for nearly thirty years and Jaya has been a full-time volunteer with an emotional support group for cancer patients and has also managed a center for kids with special needs since 1995. The two have lived a comfortable life in cities like Kolkata, Mumbai and Ahmedabad, and are now settled in a small village far away from all the luxury a high paying job promises.
After settling down in the village, they found a way to help the young children around them. Jaya says, “I’ve always loved working with children and when we shifted here, we realized that all the kids had was the normal ‘school – home – work‘ routine, we started a library (with 17 books and 2 board games) in one of our rooms.”
People need time to adapt even to smallest of changes in their routines. For a drastic change in lifestyle like this, it takes more than just adapting to new schedules. But Atul was prepared to make it work, “Yes! moving from a corporate environment to the development sector was a major change, but I believe it made me a more tolerant person and overall a better human being. Actually, I had spent a lot of time studying different writings on ‘down shifting’ and was mentally prepared. I Iearned how to make do with fewer things and found it more liberating.”
The two worked in an NGO called Chirag in Orakhan village near Mukteshwar. Atul explains, “It works on health, education, agriculture and livelihood initiatives among the communities of about 160 villages. I handled the livelihoods team and worked in setting up women’s cooperatives and manufacturing & marketing setups for their agricultural produce.”
Before even considering the shift, the two were concerned about financial stability and medical care, “While we had savings and investments, it wasn’t a very ‘secure’ amount! But if we were to wait to have that magic figure in the bank, we would probably still be in Ahmedabad!”
“Similarly, medical emergencies can’t be predicted – it’s a chance we were willing to take.”
Eventually, they did make the shift. But how are they managing now?
“We’re managing with our savings and it’s not as scary as it seemed. Cost of living in a village is substantially low.”
“Because there aren’t any malls, theatres, or restaurants anywhere close by, there are no temptations! Day-to-day living is simple since we are fairly self-sufficient – solar power, rain water harvesting and eating locally grown vegetables and fruits.“
On June 1st, 2016, they invited some kids from their village to visit their home’s library… and got 35 guests. “The next day it was 47 kids. After understanding from them what they would like to do, we ordered more books and board games. They decided the name “Happy Children’s library” and that’s what it’s called now”
Most of the books in the library are in Hindi, so the children are comfortable reading them. As time progressed, they started tuition classes for Math and English thrice a week. Their rest of week includes story telling sessions, art and craft activities, discussions and indoors games.
The details of their space are as follows:
Tuitions: Classes 4th – 10th (30 – 35 students)
Library: 5 – 16 years (40 – 45 kids)
“Our other activities include celebrations, exposure visits, workshops and whatever interests the kids. During celebrations the number goes up to 60. “
In 2017, the couple managed to get four computers for their teaching space and are now helping the children learn basic computer skills. “The most encouraging development of having computers has been the interest the older girls and few young married women have shown in becoming computer literate.”
According to them, the best parts of their new life are all the children they teach, “kids not just from our village but from 4 other villages nearby, consider the library as their space and take so much interest in all its happenings.”
It’s too early to say that this initiative has brought about a big change but our confidence in the kids and their eagerness to learn, keeps us going!
They say, “We do occasionally miss the interactions and having a good discussion with like-minded people. To some extent that gets compensated with the number of guests we have.“