Our series "Teacher Warriors" honours some of the country’s best and bravest teacher warriors, striving to give kids a fighting chance at a better present and a future floating with possibilities. In this first episode, Nichola Pais speaks to Akshai Abraham, Founder, Project Khel:
Play is more powerful than you could imagine. Project KHEL uses the concept of play in a range of progammes tailored for disadvantaged children. If KHELshaala creates a curiosity for learning among underprivileged children who are either out of school and illiterate, drop-outs or enrolled in schools but lacking proper academic guidance, Made in Maidaan harnesses the ‘Power of Play’ for development through modules designed to impart crucial Life Skills Education (LSE). Ab Bas! builds awareness about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) which affects children of all age groups, genders and social backgrounds, while Red Spot empowers adolescent girls to understand and revalue menstruation as a clean and natural biological process. Play is so much more than just fun and games, the way Akshai Abraham sees it…
Project KHEL has an interesting bedrock – Life Skills Education through Play. How did you develop this concept?
My experience of living and working as an AIESEC in a highly-developed country – Austria, motivated me to rethink my career plans from IT to the social sector. I returned to India and pursued a sectoral MBA from IIFM, Bhopal with the aim of learning more about the sector. After seven years of work experience in the development sector in the areas of research, program development, project management and organization building, I decided to quit and start something I had wanted to for a long time – a grassroots organization that works with under-served children. The idea of Project KHEL itself is a result of my schooling and the impact sports and co-curriculars had on the development of peers and me – I wanted to bring this aspect of "education" to those who were denied or did not have access to this. I believe we learn much more from our interactions OUTSIDE the classroom than within those four walls – and the learning that we get outside the classroom is actually what we need and use throughout our lives – thus the concept of Life Skills Education through Play.
How do you look at education for children ideally?
I believe that the job of education is to enable young minds to question and that of an educator is to teach a child ‘how’ to think and not ‘what’
to think. My vision for education for children is aligned on these terms. I would wish the education system were geared towards enabling children to
perceive things fairly, question what they doubt, and build the capacity to take informed decisions.
Project KHEL has touched the lives of over 12,000 children. The positive changes must gladden your heart…
For me, it has been incredibly satisfying to see children responding to each other’s needs, by offering to help, by explaining complicated
instructions to the ones who have not understood or simply by taking ownership of their entire group and keeping them all together to ensure the
most fruitful outcome of the sessions we run. With the dying sense of community and a strongly individualistic thinking that a lot of children
are brought up with, seeing the children channelize their energies to the larger benefit of their class as compared to the initial disruption they
used to cause in similar situations makes me feel happy. The kind of changes we see with respect to gender sensitivity and empowerment is
absolutely motivating and it is difficult to describe the satisfaction one feels when we see a boy behave respectfully towards a girl, where formerly
he would be derisive, or a girl, who was formerly shy and subdued, express herself both physically and verbally through her body language or
participation in discussions.
Project KHEL has conducted more than 2577-hour long sessions. Does this mean people are now completely convinced of the concept of learning through play?
The idea of education I promote through my work is often not taken seriously because we use the medium of play. The fact that play and
physical activities in general are deeply impactful on a person’s character is often ignored.
As a believer in my cause, my strongest weapon has been my unfailing belief in the power of play and the positive impact of the kind of education I
want to promote. This forces me to be a good listener, so that I can analyse where the other person is coming from, and speak in a language that
they understand best. This has brought me a fair amount of success in getting others’ buy in. The second way to conquer this has been my belief
in putting my head down and working hard, in a way that my work speaks for itself.
This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue as a part of our cover story on Teacher Warriors. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month