Women Of Action: Vaishal Nitturkar Part 1

Vaishal Nitturkar, Founder and Director of The Gyan Tree/Kidology

Interviewed by Kashay Sanders , VOICE 4 Girls Program Development Assistant

Vaishali Nitturkar is a Hyderabadi native who attended the Central Institute of Commerce and received her formal education in Commercial and Computer Practice. Vaishali and her husband lived in Kenya for one year, before moving to Sydney, where she pursued various corporate jobs. Always feeling like she wanted to serve others somehow in her life, she discovered her passion for kids after the birth of her own children. She soon quit her corporate job and began a daycare center. This spun off into her self-made organization Kidology, which promotes the free expression and the holistic development of children. Kidology is now the subset of another self-made organization, The Gyan Tree, which takes a broader look at the role all stake holders play in the child’s education. Vaishali estimates that she was worked with over 750 children. Her goal is to touch at least 1000 families in her lifetime. Right now, she is the only employee of the The Gyan Tree/Kidology and plans to keep it that way, as it allows her to continue making her children a priority in her life.

                          

What were you doing when you were in Australia?

Vaishali: For the first eight years I worked for different corporates in project management, accounting, admin and many, many things. My first venture with kids started with my own daughter. When my elder daughter was 1 year and 4 months and I cut her a papaya in two halves. Then I asked her, “What shape do you see?” and she responds, “I can see a pentagon”. And I thought, What? But a papaya is a circle. I asked her again, “What shape do you see?” She said pentagon. So, finally I asked her, “Show me the pentagon.” And she showed me the inner core, which actually is a pentagon. That was the moment I realized that we talk a different language than children do. Unless we match that, we’re really not doing justice to their thinking. We need to give them that platform and facilitate that learning which is beyond a circle.  I said, OK, now that I have my own child, I especially want to work with children. At that point, I resigned from my corporate job and started Kidology.  Kids teach us so much. They are such wonderful human beings. Somewhere down the line, with schooling and college, we lose all of that.

 

Was the decision to leave your secure job and step out on your own hard?

The decision to resign was easy because there was a trigger moment where I thought, my child needs me. When I resigned I really did not think, “What am I going to do?” I left and spent some quality time with my kids. I wanted money and meaning. It took 6 months before I realized I would open a daycare center. Getting kids to come to the daycare center actually wasn’t an issue. Some people loved that I was an Indian woman and would expose the kids to a new way of thinking. Other people did not like it—it was probably insecurity and unfamiliarity with my culture. But, once they saw what I was doing and that there was a change in their kids’ attitude, they were on my side. I was happy because I was with my daughters and able to earn something. So it struck a good balance.

Tell me a bit about your job running a daycare center in Sydney.  I know you said you wanted to make it unique from your average day care. How did you go about doing that? 

As a migrant in Australia, one thing I wanted to stress was an acceptance of other people. Tolerance and empathy are also important. A lot of the focus was on multicultural activities, like introducing the kids to different continents and cultures.  In one activity I conducted, I gave them two drawings of a landscape. I told them to color one of them in your FAVORITE color only. The landscape had about six different things in it: house, grass, river, the sun, mountains etc. The next time, I asked them to color it using the natural colors of the landscape. We put the pictures side by side and asked, “Which one looks better?” and all the kids said, “ The one with more colors is more beautiful.” They said that the picture with one color was boring because everything was only that color. I explained that, just like in the world, we are so different, tall, short, fat, skinny, lighter or darker skin—that is what makes the world so beautiful. If we were all exactly clones, then the world would be boring.

What tenets do you focus on specifically? As in, what ABOUT children do you focus on?

Vaishali:. Through the growth of kidology, I have streamlined, and come down to 5 “E”s that I’ve developed. They are: Empathy, Energy, Ethics, Enquiry and Enterprise. Ethics and Empathy are meant to address instances of violence and aggression. Enterprise deals with being resourceful, risk-taking, adapting quickly and not grudging and complaining. Energy focuses on spiritual, creative, physical and emotional energy. There’s a fitness part to it physically as well as mentally. And through Enquiry, we have progress.

Enquiry is about asking a question and not just accepting whatever comes in front of you.

Explain a bit about how and where you work. How did you start to build Kidology in Hyderabad?

I started by running reading programs for children. I do arts and crafts classes with children. I also do what I call “Person Development.” I don’t do personality development because personality covers only some of the attributes of being a person. But Person Development is inside, out. It is the complete development of being human. Then I worked with other organizations. For example, I am a visiting faculty member of the Center for Organization Development. Since I went there, I encouraged them to focus on schools. From there, I developed a school leadership program.  From there, we developed the workshops to train teachers, parents etc.

When we first got to India, I was helping my husband with his ventures and it’s only in the last 6 months that I considered scaling up Kidology.  Kidology now has become a part of The Gyan (Knowledge) Tree, which is also my creation. With Gyan Tree, I am trying to reach out to stakeholders, like school principals, teachers and parents. Kidology was focused more working with children. And then I thought I need to work with the other stakeholders as well so they in turn can develop the 5 “Es.” I needed to clone myself.

So my best shot was to create teachers & parents who would think and works like me! So I train and mentor them .

 

Stay TUNED for Part 2 of Kashay’s interview with Vaishali!!! 

How Connecting Wyoming to India Challenged Me

Peaks from Cascade Canyon - Grand Teton National Park

This past November, I was asked by Susie Rauch, who runs IC 21, to be the Keynote speaker at the 2011 Teton County Model UN Conference.

I was taken aback by the offer and incredibly honored. I participated in Model UN in high school and the international perspective and coalition building I did in committees enhanced my global outlook as well as illuminated my passion for building consensus around an issue.

As I sat down to write my speech, my mind went blank.

I finally had to call my mom for help with the speech because I had no idea where to start. After speaking with her, I realized that I have been in India and immersed in the development field for such a long time that I have forgotten what people do and do not know about women’s issues and the state of education in developing countries.

I felt extreme pressure to highlight some incredible new idea and was worried that I was not qualified to give this speech. She told me to calm down and write what I know because living and working in India has given me a perspective most people will never have.

I sat back down at my computer and began writing. Overall, I tried to connect Andhra Pradesh, India, to Wyoming. Tough challenge! 

Highlighting the differences in space, population, languages, and civil rights allowed me to connect with my high school audience and keep them interested as I informed them about the problems girls face but also how these same girls can be the solution to cyclical poverty.

With my speech written, I traveled halfway across the world, from 80-degree days in Hyderabad to snow in Wyoming, to deliver my speech to a variety of community groups and high schools before my final presentation at the Model UN Conference.

Before the first presentation, I was sweating bullets.

As the co-founder of an organization that works with adolescent girls and young women, I am not stranger to public speaking. I have run training sessions, lead activities in camp, and given a speech at the closing ceremonies of camp last year.

I was terrified to step in front of the audience and give my speech. 

I’m not going to lie. I started off a bit rocky, but then saw some sparks of interest as I began connecting their state to India as I began to connect them to the globalization that has been transforming this developing country.

I got into a rhythm and my hands started to fly as I told stories about girls in India not much different from the girls sitting in that room. At the end, my stage fear was gone and the students burst into applause after a 1.5 hour presentation (I went a little overboard).

Connecting with those students made the anxiety and multiple drafts worthwhile. I continued to give my presentation and was constantly amazed by the questions the students and community members asked.

They were genuinely curious about my work, VOICE, and the state of girls in India. Speaking at the TCMUN Conference vastly improved my public speaking skills and removed all traces of stage fear but more importantly it gave me an outlet to share what I observe and am challenged by every day:

“My work in India has highlighted how interconnected the world now is and how people can lead happier, more fulfilled lives when they are part of this global dialogue. From the slums of India to classrooms in Wyoming, we are no longer blinded by national barriers but subject to an overwhelming amount of international news. Globalization provides easy access to information, which helps us learn about issues plaguing humanity in developing and developed countries alike. As this information become more prevalent, the concept of global citizenship emerges. People can no longer only be concerned with their nation and those close to them. We must look outwards to all the countries that make up our global community.” ~ Averil Spencer