Our today’s Innovator is a young social entrepreneur and loves to learn while travelling. Go ahead Maitreyee and enlighten us with your story.
Hi everyone, I was born in India but I grew up in the United States. And around 15 years of age, We moved back to India. I haven’t been to school after 8th standard or rather I would say I was unschooled. This opportunity gave me a lot of time to explore myself and my responsibilities towards my life.
While all of this was happening, the unlearning and the unschooling, we set up a space call asmakam – Which means ‘ours’ in Sanskrit. The place for the community to build a community and over here people can come And read books from our library and just be themselves. We work with the youth and children in a very democratic manner.
Once I turned 18, I wanted to go for higher education applied to various universities across America and I got into the University of Chicago but I was there only for a year because I realised that being in a place for 4 years and doing only one thing is not my cup of tea. That time I was looking for another social impact startup called Cotfoo- connecting through food in a B&B kind of sector but it’s just for meals. The other part of this project was to connect to natural farmers and people from home who make snacks like pickles and connect them to customers.
Currently, we are taking a step back from Cotfoo and focusing more on Asmakam and focusing more on my psychology degree.
As a child how did you gather the courage to decide not to go to school anymore?
Yes, when I look back now I think it’s a very courageous step that I talked about but during that time I did not feel much fear.in fact As a kid I was quite thrilled but I don’t have to go to school from tomorrow. I think it was my parents who helped me in making this difficult decision for me. In fact, they were the ones who came up with this idea for me and my younger brother. What if you don’t go to school tomorrow? So I think they were the ones who were brave enough to take this decision for us.
Talking about your parents I heard they both are from IIT Bombay and this confuses me even more about your unschooling journey. on one side you had the best level of education and on the other side where you are you did not go to school how did it come into a realisation of your parents?
It was actually my mother’s Initiative and my father still thinks to the date that we should have some kind of formal education in order to have a plan B for a rainy day. So he is quite happy with me pursuing my college degree and now that there are few newspaper articles about me and our space, he is convinced.
My mother left her corporate job around 6-7 years back And saw the search about the whole unschooling concept and system built upon John Holt and she found some merit in it. I can say that my mother is a strong lady and she is very firm in her decision and even at home whatever she says is the final decision.
Wow, it sounds like your mum is a strong lady and we need more such people in our society.
so once you are out of The Home School and stepped into the real world how is it to you ?
I think when a person has about home schooling They have this misconception that it must be studying very hard at their home just like how they do in schools but it’s actually not the case.
I met a couple who very aptly said that it should not be called homeschooling rather it should be called World schooling . When you are not limited to this structured environment of 4 walls the world is open to you for a lot more interesting experiences. So in that sense I have been in the real world ever since I decided to not to go to school. In spite of my amazing fun journey of un learning I had a curiosity to learn more. Luckily I have been able to do that online for the past three years and I am having a lot of fun than that too.
In one of our previous conversations , I got to know that you travel a lot, will you please Throw some light on that.
Yes, ever since I was a child I’ve been traveling a lot with my parents and I am really grateful for that. In my family a typical vacation for me and my mum would be Going on adventure trips in nature whereas my dad and my brother enjoy relaxing in resorts more.And because of this reason that parents are firm believers in learning through travelling.
I remember complaining to my parents once that you know no we have been traveling throughout the globe but we do not stay in a city for more than a week I really wanna go on backpacking trips and not too touristy things and to that my mum said That you can do that it on your solo trip. they said they believe me and they have made me capable enough to take care of myself.
And that’s all the push I needed for my parents and I started travelling solo at the age of 15.
We made a deal that my parents will pay for my Travel and rest. I have to take care on my own.
After that I travelled solo across europe on multiple trips and for my expenses i started working in hostels, did baby sitting, taught people english etc. Pre-covid i also started exploring more of India also
Amazing , you have been traveling a lot but this covid situation has Put a full stop on this . So what are you doing as of now ?
So during last year’s lockdown Schools were shut down and online education was booming , we started this online learning platform called Self learning Cafe. Many parents have also approached us During this time about how they should continue homeschooling and engage their kids while being at home .
Thankfully we have a sizable community now in India and other countries too of students and parents who are interested in this process of unlearning. With their help on this platform prospective parents who are interested in unschooling, they get in touch and also many facilitators are running their respective courses on this platform. Through this platform people get to know that there are many places like asmakam all over the world.
What an amazing venture!! I will surely check it out. But Maitreyee, I feel the majority of parents still feel that they want to go the conventional way. Have you ever faced such parents who are bent upon the conventional way and hate this beautiful concept?
When I look back , there were few parents who had this ideology and after talking to us they are convinced that education systems needed to be changed, but that was primarily out of fear of the unknown. They feel if not this then what? If their kids don’t go to the school then no college or no degree means no job security.
This fear is a very valid concern but we should not forget that things are changing at a very rapid pace. Fortune 500 companies are coming forward and they are saying that we don’t need the degrees rather we need the skills.
We should let go the old notions of what livelihood is and how one can sustain financially. But it’s a long road and for that, we reached out to many startups and asked them what are the skills that you require in your employee’s profile. We had a discussion if you can get such skilled employees without degrees would you hire them and they happily agreed as they can save 6 months over one employee which they anyway have to train.
And based on that we designed a one year gap programme where we were teaching these technical and soft skills to youth and also they got exposed to the alternatives like farming and cooking . And we called this The Asmakam University
Asmakam keeps on growing organically and I have seen constant efforts from you and your family for this . Thanks for giving us your valuable time and i am sure your story will inspire people a lot
With that being said I would like to invite you to Socialgram once this pandemic situation is under control.