Education in India can be a clear path to new lives for rural folk. Families make great sacrifices to help their children get an education. The faculty I met in Villapuram, many of whom have come from agricultural families, had very touching stories to tell. I asked faculty to interview each other and then share introductions in small groups. I heard several wonderful stories about these “first generation” academicians,
These two faculty came from the same small village and have ended up teaching in the same college. They knew each other growing up and the gentleman, who is a bit older, actually taught the woman in school. Both pursued higher education and are the first in their families to attend college and become professors.
This woman is the first Muslim woman from her village to attend college. She also appeared to have a physical disability, and told me that she will not marry. She smiled, however, as she shared her passion for education and her pride in her own success.
One young man, 26 years old and an English professor, told me that his father is a farmer still today. Being a farmer in India is not easy- although this farmer owns land inherited from his father and can afford to hire seasonal laborers to help with the crops, he is still dependent on the weather and market fluctuations. As climate change affects India with both storms and droughts, farmers struggle. This young man shared how much he admires his father and talked about the sacrifices he has made to help his children become educated. Highly motivated to succeed, he pursued graduate studies in distant Chennai, starting off with a 6 hour two-way train commute every day until he could land a room in the college hostel (dorm). He helped his professors, was eager and friendly, and continued all the way to his Phd. He thought he wanted to study engineering, but his father selected English instead. He adapted to this pathway and now seems to enjoy being a professor.
Similarly, many students at these rural colleges are commuting from farm villages, often the first person in their family to pursue higher education. The college provides bus transportation for these far flung students so they can get to college on time. They rise early in the morning, get themselves to the college bus, and spend many many hours in class to achieve their goals. My experience in Villapuram was quite different from some of the more “sophisticated” colleges in Chennai. Yet I was hearted by the energy, motivation and passion I found among this more rural institution. And the college’s Secretary gave me a big bag of cashew nuts grown in the area! Thank you!