MIT sisters open a window on the world
Children at the Hichkad Primary School in India sit on the floor because there are no desks or chairs. There is no library, notextbooks, and no running water. The children have no notebooks and write with chalk on little slates.
Recently, Shriddha Nayak and her sister, Samiksha Nayak, of Manlius, N.Y., both students at MIT, changed the lives of 150 children in this rural village when they bought a computer for these young people — who had never heard of a phone booth or a subway, and who had never even seen a television set.
The sisters recently got a fellowship from MIT’s Public Service Center to set up a computer center at the Hichkad Primary School in Karnataka, India. The girls each donated their $1600 stipends to buy a Dell computer with the latest operating system. Then, they bought a digital projector and a screen, as well as a color printer — the first one in the entire county.
They also donated educational computer programs, including an encyclopedia program, and math, science, and language programs.
The sisters worked one-on-one with the children, who were bursting with enthusiasm, and who could barely contain themselves waiting for a turn at the computer. The children crowded around the young women, furiously waving their hands, eager to be called on.
The sisters taught the children — along with their teachers — how to click, move the mouse, and type. Soon the children, ages six to 12, were navigating a field trip program on their own — enjoying 360-degree views of the Taj Mahal, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, the pyramids of Egypt, the Sydney Opera House, and the rainforests of Brazil. The children went wild when they looked up encyclopedia articles on the blue whale, the human body, outer space, and what a jellyfish looks like glowing underwater. Their eyes nearly exploded when they saw cheetahs running, dolphins swimming, and gazelles jumping across the plains.
“They were just in awe,” Shriddha says. “When they spotted the Australian harbor or the Colosseum in Rome, they were jumping up and down, pointing, and yelling out, ‘Oh wow!’”
At recess, Samiksha says, the children reluctantly went outside to play, often peeking back inside through the windows at the computer.
“I’m glad we were able to help them see how great education can be,” Shriddha says. “It was so rewarding to see how we had empowered them.”
The Nayak sisters, who were at Hichkad for one month, initiated the computer program because they wanted it to make a big impact, but they also wanted the computer to have a lasting impact on the community after they left.
As a result of the girls’ efforts, community leaders have since gotten together — teachers, parents, and politicians — to form a committee to examine how the project could be continued. Thanks to the girls’ efforts it has since prompted that group to initiate other improvements — like asking alumni to donate desks and chairs, repainting the classrooms, serving lunches to the children, and creating a cricket field for the students.
While in India, Shriddha and Samiksha set up email addresses for the headmaster, the principal, and the teachers. Now that the girls are back in the United States, they often email those at the school to check on the program’s progress.
Recently, that committee asked the director of all the neighboring communities in that region to hire a computer teacher for the school, which he has made a top priority.
“It definitely makes you realize how lucky you are,” Samiksha says, adding that at times all the lack at the school almost made her feel guilty for having the amazing resources that she and her sister enjoy at MIT. “We can help reduce guilty feelings through work like this and by sharing our wealth,” she says.
“I learned that change is a product of many small steps. It doesn’t always have to be huge, glamorous settings where amazing things happen. I realized that the introduction of even one computer in a rural village school can make all the difference in the world to a community in need.”