“At SSMI, each role demands ‘a different me’ to show up!” – Gurdeep Kaur

Series: The unconventional Women of SSMI

Delhi-based Gurdeep Kaur has worked across an array of disciplines at Swami Sivananda Memorial Institute. From acting as an intermediary between teachers, parents, and school management to coordinating projects for the Gender Resource Center (GRC) and more, she has never shied away from looking beyond the horizon, taking risks, upskilling herself, and adapting to the changing nature of her work. “Each role at SSMI has taught me a great deal about community building, teamwork, and the importance of taking the initiative,” she prides. In a candid conversation, she talks about her experiences, challenges, and key learning along the way.

Young and vivacious Gurdeep joined SSMI in the summer of 2007. In the initial phase of her career spanning 15 years, she taught art and craft but diversified into textile designing and gender development with time. Having no road map in hand, she waded through challenges and plunged on opportunities that came her way. 

I have worn several hats over the years. Each had a different feather underneath. It’s hard to tell which one is better than the other. For instance, my current role as an education coordinator cum manager acts as a critical bridge between various stakeholders. While the job is demanding and has provided me with an in-depth understanding of planning and execution, striking a perfect balance between the stakeholders and spelling out clear expectations was really challenging. However, in retrospect, I find it to be easier than coordinating projects for Gender Resource Center. Because, when I listened to the heart-wrenching stories and narratives of women, I realized how inequality manifests itself in different forms such as gender-based discrimination, social stereotyping, gender-based violence, declined health and nutritional status of women, limited access to resources, etc.”

For the uninitiated, the Gender Resource Center was a program run by the Delhi Government in collaboration with various NGOs aiming to effectively empower women. In the capacity of a project coordinator, Gurdeep facilitated at-risk women of 14 marginalized clusters in West Delhi through numerous schemes and welfare programs initiated by the government of Delhi.

As an institution, SSMI believes in the convergence of thought. The Sanjay Deepak Center for Education at SSMI offers a range of activities such as free education from pre-school till class X (secondary school), extracurricular activities like music, computer, art, and dance for the school children. Gurdeep, who serves as the School Manager of the primary wing, manages the planning and evaluation of school practices. Her role allows her to work closely with teachers who primarily teach children of low-income migrants, mainly Rajasthan, Bihar, and Uttar Pradesh. 

The parents of these children are mostly artisans and weavers, but difficult financial conditions have reduced them to rickshaw-pullers, plumbers, daily wagers, vegetable vendors, or vendors in weekly bazaars. On average, their income is Rs. 4000 to Rs. 10,000 per month. Parents of most of the children are illiterate or semi-literate. The children of these families are the beneficiaries of SSMI’s Balwadi (pre-school), Primary School, and Secondary School. When asked about the obstacles teachers face in educating these kids, she explains, “The main obstacle is the lack of parent’s involvement in their child’s holistic development. Either they are unaware of their child’s educational and emotional needs or only view education from the lens of academics. Once school is over, there is hardly any guardian at home who can take care of these children in the absence of their parents. This has also led to another gravely underreported problem area, i.e., malnourishment. Impaired growth and development that children of our school experience which affect their cognitive abilities as well as their focus and concentration.”

To ensure a great learning experience for these children, Gurdeep closely monitors the implementation of educational programs. She also supervises the teaching staff in developing, modifying, and selecting curriculum materials. In this entire process, I have learned so much, but the most important learning has been to keep the trust of my institution intact.”

In the future, Gurdeep aims to work closely with SSMI to provide quality education to every child and experiment with new ideas leading towards achieving the overall vision and mission of the institution. She informs, “An afternoon school enrichment program is all to begin soon aiming to address the wider educational needs of in-school and community students. We are optimistic that the implications of this program will open doors of opportunities for us.”

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(Content Exclusive for Real Life Heroes – By Manvi)

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