A village girl with big aspirations
Digital India is a flagship program of the Government of India, with a vision to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. India has a significant digital divide between urban and rural areas, with the urban population being much more empowered in terms of digital technology, online infrastructure, and digital exposure. Since 2016, in order to reduce this digital gap, S M Sehgal Foundation has been providing six-month, structured training programs on Digital and Life Skills Awareness to rural youth between the ages of fourteen to twenty‑three years.
In these training sessions, students are made aware about the uses of digital devices, the internet, cyber security, village-level institutions, and government social security schemes. The life skills component is designed to make the students more confident, responsible in decision‑making, and to embrace a purposeful life with goals for their future.
The assistance of this initiative to students is revealed in the stories of Neelam and Ravi Kumar, from the villages of Lily and Beejwad Naruka, respectively, in Alwar, Rajasthan. Both Neelam and Ravi are twenty years old.
Neelam’s family of five owns 1.25 acres of land. However due to the severe scarcity of water, her father is only able to earn fifty to sixty thousand rupees per annum, which is inadequate for the family’s livelihood. Due to occasional heavy rainfall or drought, they sometimes have no grain available even for their food.
This difficult situation has ignited Neelam’s spirit to enhance her knowledge and achieve some skills in order to financially contribute to her family’s income as soon as possible. For this, she aspired to be a government primary school teacher, for which she enrolled in the two-year Basic School Training Certificate Course, and is now in the final year of this course.
In October 2021, S M Sehgal Foundation initiated its Digital and Life Skills Awareness Program in the government senior secondary school in her village, where Neelam’s younger sister, Deepa, studies. Deepa joined this curriculum, and Neelam accompanied her to these sessions even though she was not formally enrolled in the course.
Here Neelam was exposed to various modern concepts, empowering tools, and personality development coaching, including future aspirations/ambition/goals, use of the internet, decision‑making ability, and the importance of digital devices. Due to this she began studying for her teachers training course online as well, using YouTube and Google to get more clarity in the subjects. Her confidence got a boost and she now aspires to be a teacher in a government middle school, after gaining experience in the government primary school.
Digital course student turns village DJ
Ravi Kumar’s father works as a laborer, earning about four thousand rupees a month, which is insufficient to fulfil the basic needs of his family of five, even making it difficult to provide minimum education to his children. Considering his family’s abject financial condition, Ravi started thinking about how to earn more to help his family, but he did not receive any guidance or support from any quarter.
In September 2019, S M Sehgal Foundation began the initiative of infrastructure improvement of the government senior secondary school in Ravi’s village, and started Digital and Life Skills training here. Ravi enrolled in the Digital and Life Skills training course and learned the basics on the use of digital devices and the internet. He used his newly acquired digital skills to explore business ideas from YouTube.
Even though Ravi was motivated and wanted to start his own small enterprise, it was an uphill task, as his family had absolutely no money to spare to help him start the smallest business venture. But he did not give up. He discussed a disc jockey (DJ) business plan with a friend, and they subsequently collaborated and purchased their own DJ system along with a laptop to play music. Initially, they had very few clients, but within a year’s time, they began getting more business, including from nearby villages.
After paying all expenses, Ravi now earns five to six thousand rupees a month, which he uses to contribute toward his family’s income and for his own education costs. Ravi is currently pursuing a diploma to be a mechanic at the Government Polytechnic College, Alwar, and is in his second and final year. Ravi acknowledges S M Sehgal Foundation’s contribution to his life, which resulted in directing him toward a career goal, and inspiring him to study and earn to improve his future prospects.
Author: Jitendra Koli and Ankit Ojha
(Jitendra is digital awareness course instructor in Alwar, Rajasthan, and Ankit is assistant program lead, Transform Lives with S M Sehgal Foundation)