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Trekking trip helps infotech worker find vocation in Ladakh

Fascinated by the accounts of trekking undertaken by her husband in the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir, its vast open spaces, sub-zero temperatures and stark beauty, Sujata Sahu, an infotech professional, followed his example and got hooked. Every trekking trip made by Sahu since 2010 revealed facets of the harsh reality. Ladakhis eked out a bare existence in one of the world’s harshest environments, steeped in poverty and illiteracy. Realising the value of literacy, they even approached complete strangers to tutor their children in reading and writing skills so that they could get jobs and lead a better life.

Most of Ladakh’s 981 far-flung schools did little to help, remaining cut off six months with winter temperatures plummeting to minus 40 degress Celsius. Even otherwise, they were in a shambles.

The government did little to administer or operate such schools. Sahu wondered how they could overcome such insurmountable obstacles and impart literacy to the children by reviving these schools, besides providing books, furniture and materials. Accessing any of these remote schools, lying at altitudes between 9,000 and 15,000 feet, necessitates a 9 to 10 hours’ drive, followed by a two-day march from the nearest roadhead. The gruelling trip on foot or on mulebacks involves crossing steep mountain passes, frozen rivers and sand beds, even halting overnight by pitching tents, given icy winds and inclement weather, with no roads or hospitals anywhere in sight.

Undaunted by these challenges, the courageous Tamilian woman, married to an Oriya, took the initiative to script one of the most remarkable stories through the 17000 ft Foundation which she set up in Gurgaon with like-minded corporate professionals and trekkers. Sahu named it after the highest point that her team had crossed to reach the remotest school.

The Foundation’s three teams worked non-stop for two months, logging over 20,000 km mostly on foot, to geo-map, survey and assess all 369 schools of Leh District since May this year as part of the exercise to cover all of the region’s 981 schools. ‘The highly motivated volunteers bore all the hardships cheefully along the way,’ Sahu reminisced to IANS in an interview.

‘I stayed in a lot of villages, amazed at how these people survive with very little. It has fostered an attitude of helpfulness and cooperation. Tiny schools with 5 to 10 kids, nursery to fifth grade, used whatever resources they could find to put up makeshift structures for schools. But a lot more needed to be done. So we started with just a few schools. Today our programmes are already reaching out to over 300 of the remotest schools,’ Sahu said. The solo trip that Sahu undertook to Ladakh in August 2010 marked the turning point. ‘The success of the experience in Ladakh prompted me to quit my job and seriously rethink my future. I taught information technology at the Shri Ram School (in Gurgaon). I looked for a job in the rural sector. Then I decided to work in Ladakh.’ (IANS)
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