As the world is going through a global crisis, I’m doing my part to fight COVID-19 with my team of students from the Government Senior Secondary Schools in India. A lot of the work I’m doing was inspired by the Commonwealth100 programme (CW100) and its wonderful community. It was an exceptional opportunity to (re)learn, share, collaborate and impact lives. The most important thing that I learnt was that in the current climate, the problems are not domain-specific, rather they are very much interconnected and complexly interwoven, and we need to look at these issues holistically. During the programme, I realised that this will only be possible if researchers, policy makers, young entrepreneurs, professionals and leaders from different domains come forward to collaborate, to learn from each other's experiences and expertise, and to address global as well as local problems.

I currently work as a Gandhi Fellow and before the government lockdown in India, I engaged with more than 5,000 students and their families who are from highly vulnerable, rural communities in remote villages of the Jhunjhunu district in Rajasthan, India. With my initiative We, included., I’m passionate about enhancing the lives of these students as well as helping to develop their entrepreneurship skills. CW100 gave me the chance to interact with some really inspiring and bright minds across the globe and seek support for my initiative.

Ankit with a group of students after successfully organizing a leadership semina

I aim to create opportunities for students to reimagine their future through We, included. The initiative allows them access to a competency-based life-skills and entrepreneurship curriculum, with a focus on real problem solving, counselling for students and industry partnerships. We, included. aspires to implement a model where students in government schools start to think big and don’t restrict their future prospects. It aims to improve the lives of secondary school students by opening them up to the world of innovation, collaboration and leadership, so that they can channel their potential in multiple directions.

The learning from CW100 helped me to reflect upon my own leadership skills and approach. The course gave me the opportunity to build the qualities I needed to mentor students, and to work with their families in their respective communities, sharing knowledge on how to maintain social distancing during this COVID-19 crisis period. It was important for me to increase awareness among community members as people can react differently to stressful situations and having to socially distance yourself from someone you love can be difficult. So, I began a campaign to improve digital literacy; encouraging calls, video chats, and staying connected by using social media.

Activity with students to practice the 7-steps and at-least 20 seconds for hand-washing

 In the schools, I established a ‘WaSH Club’ that included representatives from students and faculty, headed by the school principals who are also the Panchayat Elementary Education Officers (PEEOs) of that region. The club specifically focused on:

  1. Education: Teachers were trained to share hand washing best practice, began taking daily attendance, and supervised daily group hand washing at mealtimes.
  2. Facilities: Established low-cost, improved water supply, hand washing facilities, and gender-separated toilets.
  3. Behaviour Change: Daily supervised hand washing before school meals and at group toilet times.
  4. Management: Plans created for operational maintenance and menstrual hygiene management.

Together, the students play a very vital role in leading through this crisis and being the agents of change and awareness in their community – passing on their hygiene knowledge to peers their and family members. I think it’s important to recognise that we are together in fighting COVID-19 – one hand-wash at a time!

 

Note: The pictures with students and community engagement around and about COVID-19 interventions were taken before the official declaration of lockdown by the Government of India.