As the daughter of Indian immigrants, I have always wanted to give back to the country that has shaped my identity. Growing up with Indian parents, I was taught that the Tata Group – one of the largest business groups in India and a world-renowned company – is a champion for Indian communities and development.
I was excited to learn that Tata Sons shared my passion for giving back to India and did just that through its partnership with U.C. Davis and its annual Tata Social Internship program. My excitement only furthered when my application was accepted and I was given the chance to take part in the Tata Social Internship program myself.
Throughout June and July, I worked in Orissa with the Thousand Schools Project, an initiative led by Tata Steel to improve the quality of education in government-run schools. During this time, my primary role was to study the effects of the Learning Enrichment Programs, which offer innovative teaching methods for children who are behind in school.
I traveled to remote tribal villages where I interviewed students, LEP teachers, headmasters and community members. I asked them specific questions about the challenges they face, the best teaching practices and how Tata Steel can contribute to their efforts. I loved interacting with the local community on a daily basis and seeing the positive impact of Tata’s continued efforts in the region.
Initially, I planned on only focusing on educational practices, but I quickly learned that the basic needs of the people must be met first. For example, many of the students have attendance problems, but that’s because they have to take care of their younger siblings.
In addition to education initiatives, reproductive health awareness programs, as well as better access to contraception, should be made readily available. I also realized that food security, sanitation and health needs must be addressed in these communities in order for educational programs to succeed.
The LEP program has had some amazing success. Many of the children could not read, write or even speak Oriya, the state’s official language. Some failed their initial comprehension tests, but now, many of them have scored high marks in these subjects.
The LEP teachers are all extremely dedicated to their students, and have received innovative training from Tata Steel’s initiative. All of the teachers go above and beyond to retain their students; many of them visit the students’ homes to convince their parents to send them to school or have meetings with local community members.
Through the Teaching Learning Methods, the students are able to utilize hands-on techniques to improve their language, math and English skills. One of the most popular TLMs is the Oriya Story Cards, which encourage the kids to creatively write, read and share their own stories. The LEPs address many of the fundamental disparities these children have, and work innovatively to improve their basic literacy.
Tata Steel has chosen to empower Indian communities, and I believe this should be exemplary to other privately held companies across the world. This opportunity has made me proud to work for a group that promotes the welfare of the local people and employees in communities where they operate.
I am grateful that the Tata Social Internship has a lasting impact on the continued development of India.
While I know my two-month long summer work may only result in a short-term impact, I hope the research I presented can contribute to the long-term solutions for the Thousand Schools Project and its LEPs long after I return to U.C. Davis.
Through both my previous internship at the White House and this summer’s Tata Social Internship, the biggest thing I learned is that it is crucial to listen to the local people’s needs. Tata does just that.
India is such a beautiful, diverse country, and I’m thankful to have received the opportunity to participate in such a meaningful experience.