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Mahima Bhatolia began The Social Paathshala to educate senior citizens in digital literacy, something so essential now during the pandemic.
The pandemic has forced almost all of us online for even our essentials, and also stay in touch socially with friends and family mostly online. Senior citizens, or even homemakers who might not be very tech-literate have suffered a lot by this unexpected turn of events. Enter someone like Mahima Bhatolia, who began The Social Paathshala for educating them in this indispensable skill.
New technological advancements grapple the world everyday. Some are able to catch up with these new advancements but many, particularly the senior citizens face the wrath of the generation gap, and get left behind when it comes to using gadgets and tech devices.
In India too, with no knowledge of handling digital devices, many older people feel isolated, particularly when there is no one around to teach them. With their family members being busy in their own lives and career, they feel nothing but helpless.
In an attempt to address and tackle this issue, Mahima Bhalotia started an initiative called the Social Paathshala, which provides online digital empowerment lessons to the elderly and homemakers above 40 years of age. She aspires to make the Social Paathshala a global initiative and aims to provide tech education to senior citizens globally.
Q- Tell us something about your initiative, the Social Paathshala.
M – So, the Social Paathshala started as a result of helping the elders. I am generally a person who likes helping people a lot, in different ways. This is since the time I was in school because in school. People would give me their books to draw Biology diagrams for them. I never refused to help people. They would say, “You’re going out of your way and helping…” and I would reply , “No, it’s okay, I am okay with it.”
I always wanted to do something different. When I was working I thought, “I am earning money, I am in a good company but am I actually satisfied from inside?” That’s when I thought of starting the Social Paathshala.
In my house, my dad is very smart in terms of technology but my mom, in spite of being educated is not very tech savvy because koi unhe sikhane wala hi nahi hai (there’s no one to teach her). That is when I realized that I should start something like this where people can benefit from my basic knowledge. Since then I’ve been reaching out to people and via them, I’ve been reaching out to their friends.
So, we are an initiative to help elders in technology, you can call these elders above 50 plus years of age.
Q- You admitted to have been quite puzzled when it came to choosing a name for your initiative, how did it come down to naming it the Social Paathshala?
M- My mom is very supportive. With the Social Paathshala, I was sure I wanted to name it like a school. Gurukul was one of the options, so was Paathshala, so she suggested that since you’re teaching social media and you’ll be interacting with a lot of elders, I could name it the Social Paathshala – an educational institution, and a community of people where people can get together and have fun.
Q- Since your classes focus on teaching the senior citizens and helping them become tech savvy, what were the challenges you faced once the classes became online due to this pandemic?
M- By the time I began my group classes at August end, people had been using Zoom since April, so they knew how to join but the biggest challenge was they didn’t know how to mute/unmute, they didn’t know how to start/stop their video. Whenever I was explaining something and they wanted me to stop in between, they could not tell me to stop. So, they had to call me in between the classes and say, “Mahima, stop we are not understanding.”
It was very challenging. That’s when I thought, “let me have a session on Zoom and teach them how to use the platform.” After that, people began to understand, and that challenge was overcome.
Then there was the challenge which I still have is – where people aren’t sure they’ll remember what they have learnt. They think that they won’t remember as they think they are very old. But, I don’t think that’s true because I have students who have been very active in their youth, and who are still very active mentally and physically. They still remember everything that I teach them.
Right now, the biggest challenge is convincing people and telling them, “You CAN learn. It’s alright.
Q- In this continuous process of teaching, is there anything you learned from your students?
M- I share this with every person who talks to me about Social Paathshala that I learn more from them than what they learn from me. I am teaching them technology with which I have grown up, but they have lived with struggles, wars, bombings and terrorist attacks. They have seen all of that. They have seen how a politically mad state is.
“There is no such thing in life without struggle”
One of my students is 76 years old, Jagpal Singh. He is from Kolkata. He is from Sindh and came to India after the Partition. He said that his father was not rich. There was a time when they didn’t have money for his father’s treatment, so he started working at the age of 18. He wanted to pursue his engineering from Banaras Hindu University but paisa nahi tha (there was no money) and he had to fund his dad’s treatment, so he started working.
He said, “I left my dreams unfulfilled at that time. There is no such thing in life without struggle. If you haven’t struggled in some way or the other in life, you will reach that stage where you will be bored with life, thinking ‘there’s no struggle, I had such an easy life.’”
He has taught me the art of staying happy whatsoever. He has a son who has a kidney problem and he knows he will lose his son in a few years. Both his kidneys don’t function and he can’t live a very long life. He told me, “I enjoy every day with my son, Maanav. I don’t think that mere saath aisa kyun hua (why did this happen to me). I just know that as long as Maanav is with me, I am just going to have fun with him till the time he is alive.
So, when I get bog down thinking, “I am still unmarried” or “I am still in the initial stage of my startup”, I just think about his struggles in life. I don’t have an ailing father, I don’t have a house where I have to be the sole bread earner of my family.
“Health is the best thing you can invest in”
Another student of mine is a Captain from the Indian Navy. He was an integral part of the Indo-Pak war. He is a fitness freak, he runs 21 kilometers marathon at this age. If you look at him, he doesn’t look his age. He looks in his 60s, when his actual age is 76.
He told me, “Health is the best thing you can invest in.” I knew that at the bottom of my heart but I wanted somebody to tell me. When I feel lazy to get up in the morning and go for a jog, I think of the Captain who goes for a jog in the morning, comes back, eats breakfast, attends my classes, and then goes out also. So, I learnt enthusiasm, health tips from him.
So many ladies in my class, despite being from traditional families with a load of work, are still taking out two hours a day. They think “humne abhi tak life mein kuch nahi kiya, ab karte hain (we haven’t done much in our life, let’s do it now). Let’s make ourselves more tech savvy.” They don’t want to be dependent on their kids.
Some have even shared their agony with me – “My kids don’t respect me because they feel I am not tech savvy. I can’t make my own payments, I can’t shop online.” They have shared their concerns with me. I feel very bad because knowing technology is not rocket science. Because of not knowing technology, they have pulled their self-esteem so down that they don’t want to think that after knowing it, they can be a better version of themselves.
Those ladies have taught me that with willpower, you can do anything in life. If you have the willpower to start something fresh, you CAN do it. Age doesn’t matter, your household duties also don’t matter.
The basic thing I have learnt from my students is that they don’t think they’re old, they’re young at heart. That’s why they are able to come for a class, enjoy, learn and go back with good memories.
Q- What future goals do you aim to achieve for the Social Paathshala?
I want to be a leader in the market, in terms of providing tech education to elders because at the Social Paathshala, I am a professional, but when it comes to teaching elders, I do not behave in a formal manner. If I do, they will hesitate to ask me their doubts. They will not come back to me thinking that, “Usne to ek class kara diya (she’s done one class with us) and she is not bothered. She just took our money, sikha diya (taught us) and that’s her duty.”
But, when people come to me, they know that Mahima will not let us leave the class until all our concepts are solved. So, I want to be that leader in the market because I know there will be 10 more people who may do something like this. I want to be remembered as a person who will always be emapathetic towards the elders. I want people to think of the Social Paathshala whenever they think of technology classes and elders.
I want to make it a global initiative. I want to start teaching people globally, I want to travel around the world and do workshops in different cities. I have got complaints from my cousins who stay in the US that their parents are not able to pass their time there, there is nothing to do.
I think initiatives like these might help them to form a nice group where they can have fun. So, the Social Paathshala wants to become a community, like the first preference of community for the seniors.
Find the Social Paathshala here on Facebook
Images source: Mahima Bhatolia
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