International Literacy Day 2022: Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces

Literacy is one of the most talked about topics these days and why not? It is one of the most crucial aspects of one’s life, growth, and development. However, everyone does not have equal access to education and literacy places. Maybe you can Google anything and everything within a second but someone in a remote village might not even know what google is or how to spell it. The gap is immaculate because being educated is promoted but where to get access to the learning spaces is a question many won’t be able to answer. 

This year the United Nations utilized the International Literacy Day 2022 to address how crucial it is to focus on literacy learning spaces along with education as a whole. THE ANTS organized an event around the same to discuss how we as individuals and as a community can contribute to transforming the literacy learning spaces to make them more accessible and equitable. 

The guests who were thrilled to be a part of the event and share their journeys were: 

  • Gabriella Oliver: Director of Women Lead Movement  
  • Sabbah Haji: Educationist & Trustee, Haji Education Foundation

Since Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces is something we need to start discussions about in 2022- the event started with Samar Afzal, the moderator from THE ANTS team, addressing the elephant in the room by asking the guests what loopholes and gaps encouraged them to work towards ‘Literacy’ since it is a vast topic with many things attached to it. 

What is Literacy? 

Sabbah Haji started by telling the audience what literacy is to her. 

She summed it up by telling us that to her it’s access, equality, and the only way to bring everyone to a standard level. She further added that literacy and education is the platform to bridge the gap between the different strata of society by providing everyone with equal opportunities. According to her, literacy is the only way where one can rise up with just merit regardless of the social-economic background. 

When Samar Afzal asked Sabbah Haji what made her go back to her home- the mountains and start her school Sabbah was thrilled to share her journey. She shared that she belongs to a remote village in Jammu & Kashmir and the village is so distant from all the development that even the roads were built in 2022 only. 

She shared that even though she was brought up in Dubai her family was still connected to their hometown. It was the stark difference in her and her cousins’ (who grew up in the hometown itself) personalities that made her notice the need of shifting from Bangalore to her hometown. 

Sabbah and her family build up the school brick by brick. The journey started from the two rooms at her place which they converted into classrooms and we have been growing ever since. Sabbah’s journey is indeed an inspiration for all of us.

To our guest, Gabriella Oliver, literacy is not just the ability to read and write but also the ability to capacitate an individual with self-development skills, and cognitive abilities to make responsible decisions in order to advance personal growth. She believes that without literacy skills one would be in serious trouble. Quoting her, “over 750 million adults cannot read or write and that is not a small fraction- they are not only destructive to the broader society but also to themselves. That is why literacy and programs encouraging it are so important.” 

Encouragement factor to work for the literacy of all and how society takes the initiatives

To understand how society takes these literacy-promoting programs Samar asked our guests to tell the kind of people they came across while they were doing their bit for the community and the kind of mindset that people had. Most importantly she asked what it took to motivate and make people understand why literacy is important. 

Gabriella had a lot to say about the same since she is from South Africa, one of the countries with the lowest literacy rate in the world. She explains that it is because South Africa has a very poor education system that does not promote the culture of reading. She says that there are insufficient resources, especially in public schools.  She further adds that the two-tier educational system in South Africa makes it even worse- private schools are well resourced and receive the required things like books on time. While in public schools the books do not arrive on time or at all, and there are incompetent and I’ll equip educators who are unable to communicate with the learners. 

She also says that poverty in the country is also a major barrier when it comes to accessing quality education in South Africa. This situation became way more adverse because of the pandemic since the dropout rate increased at that time and the sole goal of the students was to find employment to survive. Gabriella makes the audience understand that she sympathizes with the students, she understands their situation and it is the government that needs to promote education and encourage people to study. She adds that it is important for the government to make education popular not only because it is important to survive economically but also to build a safe environment for young girls. 

She believes a reading culture needs to be cultivated in South Africa. An emphasis on curriculum development needs to be done to avoid reducing drug abuse and teenage pregnancies which ruin the childhood of the children. All and all education must be promoted along with its benefits. 

Literacy is very very important for everyone and it’s a human right.

Sabbah Haji, Educationist & Trustee, Haji Education Foundation

This answer from Gabriella prompted Samar to ask another question to Gabriella. She took the opportunity to ask that everything is being digitized these days, stating the example of a friend from India who was learning to sing online during the pandemic. However, not everyone had access to an electronic device and internet- Samar asked if Gabriella has come across anything of this sort and how is she planning to address this challenge in society. 

Gabriella felt that this was a very crucial question that needed to be asked. She says that there are school kids who do not have access to basic educational material like textbooks and pencils let alone the internet and electronic devices which are now needed for active learning. Covid has also had a very negative impact on students’ attitudes. She adds that these were the struggles that were hindering the participation of the children but the times were so bad that people were unable to arrange even a time meal so education definitely took a backseat since staying alive was the first concern. 

She says that she expects this issue to be resolved with help from the government and the global community. She tells that people across the world need to come forward and donate to the community to promote and make education a success in South Africa because education is a need not a luxury and education should be for all. 

Jammu & Kashmir is the hometown of both Sabbah Haji and Samer Afzal and they had a lot to discuss about how to handle resistance from society and ensure that kids come to school instead of seeking employment as Gabriella discussed.

Sabbah starts by telling that the educational system is horrifying in the region which she hails from. She explains that even though there are teachers and public schools in remote villages there is still no education. There are generations of people coming out of school and still not being educated and this is what is the most petrifying part. 

She says that J&K is a region where parents are hungry for their kids to get an education and that is one of the reasons that encouraged her to give to the community. People have now realized that education is a stepping stone. 

She says that the community of her village was very supportive, they said they’ll enroll their children in the school and encouraged us to start with it. She adds that however certain things still hold them back like gender bias and that’s when we had to find a solution. Sabbah says that she and her mother made it a point that they will enroll a boy only if his sister is enrolled too. Furthermore, another way that helps them enroll more girls is that they receive an education free of charge for the girl if 2-3 children from the same family are enrolled in the school. 

Our audience was thoroughly engaged in the discussion since it interested everyone that how we can give back to the community by taking small steps from our end. 

Sabbah also quotes that the trust people of her village had in her family made this initiative possible. It would have been impossible to run a school in some other village since trust is the first requirement for it. She says that the experience was surreal for the parents since they never saw their kids being educated and parents joined on day 1 to see the classes going on. 

Sabbah believes that more than infrastructure and buildings what is more important is the quality teachers. She expects the best from the teachers at her school and ensures that quality is not compromised. Sabbah affirms that every child is different and that having the same criteria to judge everyone is not right. Quoting her, “it feels terrible to me as I run the school we have to have the same academic line and criteria to judge everyone. We want to give the children some exposure but we cannot since that would be way beyond our system and eventually children will have to come back to give board exams for instance.” 

Sabbah Haji also agrees with Gabriella Oliver that she fails to see how top leaders of the world and policymakers are unable to figure out that this (literacy) is the most urgent requirement. 

She also says that technology helps people grow but it is also a limiting factor and a hurdle for many when it comes to education. 

Online education- Boon or bane? 

Since the technology was brought up Samar Afzal had another interesting question to ask our guests. She addresses that we are in a fix and not every child can adapt to the digital world and online teaching. She asked the guests what measures or Plan B did they opt for to ensure that the education of the children is not compromised. 

To this, Sabbah Haji replied without flinching that digital education did not work for them. Some children did not have smartphones, those did not have the money to spare on mobile data, or there was only one common phone for the family and these issues made digital education impossible. 

She says only face to face teaching worked for them and even during covid, they would take classes in physical mode taking the proper precautions. They were lucky to carry on with their endeavor since covid did not reach their village. She clearly states that online education is a no-no not only for rural areas but in urban areas as well. It has not been very successful since kids lack patience and get distracted very easily. 

To take the discussion on a lighter note Samar Afzal asked Sabbah Haji to share an interesting story of one of her students telling how literacy helps children and society as a whole. 

Sabbah states that even though the internet might not have helped them in teaching, it definitely facilitated them in providing students with the resources and keeping them up to date with the happenings of the world. It was a tool that aided their teachers. Sabbah along with her family has built a library over the years and has helped children cultivate the habit of reading. 

She tells that one of her students wrote a character sketch and review of the book that she read in the library and we posted that review on social media handles tagging J.K Rowling. It Was an effort from J.K Rowlings’s end, she sent a huge gift box for the entire class and appreciated the effort by the students. 

Literacy in theory and practicality (Gender roles and daily lives)

Samar Afzal had an interesting take on literacy. She says that there is a lot of difference between being literate and being educated. This difference comes from the background one has grown up in, the way society is conditioning us as individuals, discrimination, and much more. She asked for input on the same from our guests. 

Gabriella was glad that Samer brought up this question. Quoting Gabriella, “Being educated and literate does not necessarily make one a logical person, there are many highly educated people out there who say the most absurd things one can think of and are even unable to reason properly or give logical explanations.”  

Gabriella shared that lately she was having a discussion with one of her friends about GBV (Gender-based Violence) and women are being abused by men in institutions of higher education. It brings us to the question of why a highly educated man, with access to all the resources, cannot understand that hurting another human is just not right. Even though the men are highly educated yet these incidents keep occurring on campus. She tells that it is when she realized that another hurdle to education is the culture and its teachings. 

The society was predominantly patriarchal and the males are not ready to give up their privileges even today. She says we need to find the root cause of such incidents and need to find what induces this behavior and eliminate it since physical abuse is one thing but psychological abuse is something that is lethal and carries its scar with them for the rest of their lives. 

Gabriella further adds that this is why the governments need to promote and offer holistic training and capacity building to young women.

I don’t think we should be begging to have access to schools and begging for pencils and books, we are entitled to them merely on the basis that we exist and our lives matter.

Gabriella Oliver, Director of Women Lead Movement

Samar adds to Gabriella’s point by stating the difference between the third world and first world countries. People in third world countries are still struggling for basic necessities while in first world countries women are going head to head and toe to toe with women. Quoting Samar Afzal,” when I moved to Europe and saw women doing exactly what men are doing I felt that now I am in the right space. There are these different corners and parts of the world where we see a huge difference in the gender roles and their flexibility.” 

Samar further adds that creating a space for people to talk about the things they have been through is important since literacy is also about letting people be aware of their basic human rights. Samer then asks the question to Sabbah if there is this kind of discrimination happening where she comes from and if there is a difference between the generations. 

Sabbah starts by stating that there is definitely a difference between the older generation and the younger ones. The upcoming generation has access to more information than the older ones ever had. Quoting her, “so if I talk about my kids at my school then we have been actively breaking the old chains of patriarchy, misogyny, gender discrimination, and cut and dried out gender roles.” 

She states that they start it young and it has worked magnificently, anything that you want to bring to the children they accept without any judgments or bringing stereotyped gender roles into play. She tells that even though there is still some pushback from their homes the change is there it’s slow and steady but it is evident. 

The discussion and the event motivated Samar as well to open up about how she also wants to contribute to the community and society. Push youngsters to study and give feathers to them. 

Samar also appreciated the efforts that Sabbah and Gabriella are doing for the community to make a change. Both Sabbah and Gabriella had few words to say to the audience on the same. 

Sabbah connected to the audience on a personal level. Quoting her,” prioritize education and not just book learning but let your kids’ mind be opened, do not restrict your kids in learning, and don’t push prejudices down their minds.” 

Gabriella agreed with Sabbah but in addition to that, she also stated that most of the responsibility lies in the hands of the government- to invest in education and to take up leadership roles in ensuring that its society is capable and equipped and lifted. She believes that on an individual level even small efforts like donating books can make a lot of difference.

Spread the wings and just fly.

Samar Afzal

The event was a huge success since both the guests and the audience engaged in the much-needed conversation.

Here is the video link to the live event:

International Literacy Day 2022: Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces – Online Event by THE ANTS

For Your Better Mental Health & Wellbeing: World Mental Health Day

On World Mental Health Day 2021, THE ANTS organized an online event with the theme ‘MENTAL HEALTH IN AN UNEQUAL WORLD.’ The event’s purpose was to bring the people together with mental health experts and lead all towards better mental health and wellbeing.

For providing expert guidance on the mental health issues and how shall we deal with those, the event was graced by: 

  • Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor, AVSM, VSM, and BAR (Retd.), Former Director-General of Medical Services (IAF)

  • Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor

  • Dr. Sadaf Jafri, Assistant Professor in Department of Education, AMU, Malappuram Campus

Mr. Sharib Suhail, Communications and Media Officer at THE ANTS, inaugurated the event with a vote of thanks to the audience and the honored guests and emphasizing the sensitiveness of the issue of mental health stating “Accordnig to UN 2016 data, nearly 8 lacs people dies every year by suicide and nearly 79% of global suicides occur in low and middle income countries. This is a day which is earmarked to spread awareness around mental health and other related issues. When we discuss these sensitive issues, an expert perspective is highly regarded.” 

Right from the outset, the event unfolded the most common issues we are facing today on our mental health front and how we can tackle those, more in a pragmatic sense.

Pandemic, your mental health, and depression

Mr. Sharib kicked off the event with the first question to Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor: “How has mental health become a concern during the pandemic?”


Sharing his views on pandemic and mental health, Air Marshal (Dr.) Pawan Kapoor said: “The pandemic has affected us in many ways. Apart from physical health, it has definitely impacted our mental health. If you go to WHO (website and see), the definition of health, health means physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely absence of disease or infirmity. You look to be alright but there may be mental issues which are going on in your mind, which can be related to many aspects. In the pandemic, many of us got isolated, even those who were elderly, who were school-going children, who were economically marginalized, who were socially marginalized — All of them felt the brunt of the pandemic. It has a huge impact on each and every stratum of our society. We can say the pandemic equally affected all strata of society. Everybody was affected.”


Highlighting the issues of loneliness in pandemic, Dr. Kapoor added, “There was a sense of loneliness (during pandemic). There was a sense that nobody was available to look after you. You also could not access the mental health services because mental health services got disrupted. And the loneliness increased. People who were in their elderly age group became isolated. And of course, it did impact a lot of people who have grievances in their families. There was more stressful living during the pandemic. There was apprehension even amongst the frontline workers. Everyone was impacted in this pandemic and mental health was the common impact where you suffered, your neighbor suffered, all your relatives suffered, all your near and dear ones suffered, or you got economically marginalized or you got socially marginalized. In all these ways, each one got impacted.”


Adding to how pandemic has affected mental health, Dr. Sadaf discussed how media houses and social media have played a role in amplifying the issue and how we can use those to positively handle situations like hanging out and recreational activities online.

Bursting the myths around mental wellbeing and depression

Quoting a personal incident about how clinical depression can lead to losing a life, Mr. Sharib emphasized how there is a cloud of myths, confusion, and lies that surrounds mental health issues.


“There are people who dub even a little issue or a state of casual boredom as depression and use the term leniently. And there are people who are suffering from a serious state of depression but find it hard to acknowledge the issue or are not willing to accept it and don’t seek help on time.”


To burst the myths and confusion around depression and mental health disorders, Air Marshal (Dr.) Pawan Kapoor enlightened us, sharing lessons from his experience in Indian Armed Forces:


“I have had a long experience in the Armed Forces. When we were in the Armed Forces, there was a common issue (depression) we used to face. Because of living away from family, working in a stressful environment without knowing whether we will be alive tomorrow or not, having issues in the family — All these factors are there but people hesitate to admit it, talk about it. People are not willing to come forward and say that they are not okay. And many people don’t recognize that my colleague or my peer or my family member is facing some sort of depression. Depression has got many definitions. People think this is a sign of weakness — That if I say to somebody that I am mentally not well or I am depressed, then it’s my weakness. So, they don’t want to come forward. It has got a stigma attached to it because people are not aware. So, what we need to do is to prevent this stigma from spreading by organizing awareness events like THE ANTS is doing right now.”


Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor further added that “it’s important to burst following myths around mental health and depression by making people aware with awareness campaigns and events:” 


Mental health myth #1: Mental disorder is a sign of weakness. 


Mental health myth #2: Mental disorders are not to be communicated.  


Mental health myth #3: You’re supposed to keep it within yourself. 


Mental health myth #4: Keep it under the carpet. I will not talk about this to anybody because I am worried about what other people might think of it. I am worried about what my family might think of it. And I am worried that I will lose respect.


As Dr. Kapoor said, due to the above myths, people don’t seek professional help while going through any mental health disorders, 


Emphasizing the fact that mental health disorder is just like any other disease that can be cured, Dr. Kapoor said: “Mental health is just like cold and cough. If you’re not feeling well (mentally), go and see doctors, just like you go and see when you have cold and cough.”

“Mental health is just like a cold and cough. If you’re not feeling well (mentally), go and see doctors, just like you go and see when you have a cold and cough.”


— Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor, AVSM, VSM, and BAR (Retd.), Former Director-General of Medical Services (IAF)

Suppression of expression leads to depression

Highlighting the symptoms of depression and mental health disorders, Dr. Kapoor added that while at times, we all face downtimes in life, but if you’re facing these situations persistently, you should seek professional help: 


  • You feel like you are not feeling well.

  • You have lost interest in your day-to-day activities.

  • You are always feeling sad and irritated. 

  • You are facing difficulty in carrying out day-to-day activities. 

  • Your family members feel that you’re withdrawing yourself from the family activities.  

  • You feel restless and tired.

  • Change in appetite, eating too much or too little. 

  • You’re thinking that life is not worth living. 


“Mental ill-health is like any other illness. Just like you seek help for other illnesses, you should seek help for your mental health as well. You get help early; you get cured early. Suppression of expression leads to depression. If you have got an issue with yourself, with your community, with your friends, please support them, please support yourself, come forward and seek help. It (mental health) is not a stigma. It’s just like other diseases.” — Dr. Kapoor added.

“Suppression of expression leads to depression. If you have got an issue with yourself, with your community, with your friends, please support them, please support yourself, come forward and seek help.”


— Air Marshal (Dr) Pawan Kapoor, AVSM, VSM, and BAR (Retd.), Former Director-General of Medical Services (IAF)

Work-life balance and mental health in online world

Raising the concern over the impact of being online for everything during the pandemic on work-life balance and mental health, Mr. Sharib added: “During the pandemic, most of the work that used to be offline has moved to online. People are working from home online, students are taking classes online, and almost everything has shifted from “real” to “virtual.” Talking about online classes, while those have given a medium to students to continue their studies even during the pandemic, virtual classes have been hurting the cognitive development of the young students and also leading to a feeling of isolation.” 


With her take over this concern and what can we, at societal level, do to improve mental health for all students, Dr. Sadaf shared her advice that in this situation, parents and guardians must make time to sit with the students and play some indoor games, have healthy discussions and polite talks with them to understand their problems. Dr. Sadaf also added that having awareness events where students and elders both can openly discuss their mental health challenges with counselors can go a long way. “You must not hide your issues from your counselors or psychiatrist so that they can understand you better and provide the best possible help,” said Dr. Sadaf.

What is good mental health?

While the definition of “what is good mental health” is highly subjective and depends on what one wants from their life, Dr. Anuttama, followed by Dr. Kapoor and Dr. Sadaf, enlightened us about the state of good mental wellbeing from her personal account on what good mental health means for her:


“Mental health issues are not only limited to those people who are diagnosed with mental illness. This is important for all of us. Even mental health professionals can also have psychological issues… It is important that I feel self-determinism, I have the right to make the choice that I want to make, I am engaging in meaningful works that I want to engage in, I am happy and comfortable the way I am, and I am happy and comfortable by being myself. So, a part of me, which is my being, is comfortable in whichever identity I take up. Another part of me, which is my-doing self, is comfortable in whatever meaningful I am doing. So, mental health to me is a culmination of all these factors.”

“It is important that I feel self-determinism, I have the right to make the choice that I want to make, I am engaging in meaningful works that I want to engage in, I am happy and comfortable the way I am, and I am happy and comfortable by being myself. So, a part of me, which is my being, is comfortable in whichever identity I take up. Another part of me, which is my-doing self, is comfortable in whatever meaningful I am doing. So, mental health to me is a culmination of all these factors.”


— Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor

It’s okay to feel bad

Talking about the role of empathy and caregivers to handle mental issues during the pandemic, Dr. Anuttama added: 


“Inequality in terms of finances, money have actually impacted us greatly… The caregivers will have to be extremely sensitive to understand this greater picture. For example, they have to realize when we say that you have to struggle, you have to be alright, you have to be happy, you have to be positive, as if we are putting the entire responsibility upon the individual. It is not always possible to be positive. There are times when we’d just let down our hair. And it’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to feel frustrated.”

“It is not always possible to be positive. There are times when we’d just let down our hair. And it’s okay to feel bad. It’s okay to feel frustrated.”


— Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor

While explaining the process to acknowledge and tackle the mental health issues. Dr. Anuttama added that “the primary idea is to understand, empathize, and acknowledge (the situation) without being judgemental.” Dr. Anuttama also discussed the most common challenges faced in day-to-day life that lead to depression and how one can naturally tackle those, including financial, educational, and relationship issues. 


As Mr. Sharib pointed out the takeaway: “Being empathetic is really key to pull anyone out from the (mental illness) situation and give them a comforting arena and surrounding where they can open up well in front of you.”

“Being empathetic is really key to pull anyone out from the (mental illness) situation and give them a comforting arena and surrounding where they can open up well in front of you.”


— Mr. Sharib Suhail, Communications and Media Officer, THE ANTS

Mental wellbeing with compassion-based self-care

Next Mr. Shaaib brought into discussion the role of compassion-based self-care in mental wellbeing and how one can go about it. Dr. Anuttama emphasized the role of education in developing compassion for self-care by making a strong : 


“In our academics, do we include any chapter where we teach our children to deal with their negative emotion, to develop resilience, to develop coping strategies in the face of crisis?” 


Dr. Anuttama also shared her advice on how you can develop compassion for yourself, no matter what the world thinks of you, adding:


“For compassion-based self-care, one thing we have to remember about compassion is I’d not label myself the way I am labeled because the world would not always be fair. The world will discriminate. The world may treat us unfairly, negatively.”

“I’d not label myself the way I am labeled because the world would not always be fair. The world will discriminate. The world may treat us unfairly, negatively.”


— Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor

Sharing her views on self-care for children, Dr. Sadaf added: “From the very beginning, we have to guide our children in the right direction. We need to make our children understand that when there is a problem, there is a solution as well.” Dr. Sadaf also shared why it’s important to develop a positive mindset and real-life problem-solving skills in children in the early stages of schooling, adding: “No medicine can heal a negative thinker and no poison can kill a positive thinker.”


The event also provided attendees an opportunity to ask their concerns about mental health from the expert panel and get answers during the live discussion.

What other things should we do to improve our mental health?

One of our audience members asked the above question that Dr. Anuttama so gracefully answered for us:


“Life is abstract. There are so many questions when we grow up and realize that we will never get answers so very easily. The problem lies in the fact that we try to solve everything following the same academic model of problem-solution. Life is not limited to these binaries. (Every problem) is a small chapter of your life. Maybe in your entire autobiography, this (the current problem) will just be one small chapter. You have to move on… Sometimes, you might feel that I am too full with all the problems. I can’t deal with it. Okay, that is your state of mind today. Tomorrow, you might have a better start; you might be in a state to deal with life in a different way. So, take the problem, take the emotional states almost like a fog. Let it come, let it subside, and let you have a clear vision once again.”

“(Every problem) is a small chapter of your life. Maybe in your entire autobiography, this (the current problem) will just be one small chapter. You have to move on.”


— Dr. Anuttama Banerjee, Consultant Psychologist & Academic Mentor

When you don’t feel like going out of home

One of our attendees asked: “Sometimes, I don’t feel like going out of my room or speaking to people. I don’t speak to my family members. There is a sense of delusion, and I like staying like that. What should I do to get out of it?”


Addressing this question, Dr. Kapoor added that if once in a while you get that feeling that you want to be alone for a while and need some space for yourself, it is okay. But, if you have a persistent feeling that you want to stay alone, you’re becoming more and more reclusive, you don’t enjoy things you enjoyed earlier, you don’t want to mix in the community and even with your best friends, then that’s a warning sign. And if this feeling of reclusiveness is there on a consistent basis (for more than 2 weeks), that’s the time when you need support to get out of this negativity. Seek support from your near and dear ones in your family and friends, followed by external help if required.


Going on with the discussion, Dr. Kapoor further added a very important mental health issue that we all face in our lives at one point or another and how to deal with that:


“In all our lives, each one of us has goals, an aim in life. When you are not able to meet that aim, whether that aim or goal is related to relationships, whether the aim is academic pursuits, whether it is economic pursuits, whether it is building relationships, whatever aim it is, we all have a goal in life. And when we are not able to attain that goal, then we face two things at that point. One is frustration that we are not able to achieve that we think we should be able to achieve. That frustration gradually can either affect you internally or externally. The internal phenomena lead to depression. It’s very dangerous, and it is recognized a bit later. And it can cause you self-harm when you start feeling that life is worthless, not worth living, and start having suicidal tendencies. That is the time when you need timely support and help. And that help and support you should try to seek yourself. If you are not seeking it, your family members should be aware that these are early signs which could lead to self-harm in the future. At that time, your family should come forward to support you. If you are not able to overcome it with family help alone, then you should go to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist. There is no harm in seeking help. We can call depression or mental health issues a kind of mental flu.”


Adding to the discussion, Dr. Sadaf also shared her views on how addiction to mobile and technology in digital life is causing isolation and a feeling of persistent loneliness. And how guardians, parents, and close friends can support children at home simply by having a frequent discussion and talking about things, i.e., increasing together-time. 

Before concluding the event, our guests also shared stories from their personal experiences on mental wellbeing and how they did triumph the situation, lifting the spirit of positivity in the audience. 


The event was successful in setting a positive mindset for all the attendees and brought them together with mental health experts to get open and practical advice on how to stay mentally strong, put a timely check on the mental health issues, how to seek help when required, and stay well, mentally. And we hope that the insights mentioned in this event story will help you further to stay ahead on the curve of mental wellbeing and keep depression at bay. 


Once again, we here sincerely thank all our esteemed experts who gave away their precious time to grace this event and share their wisdom, advice, and experiences with us all for better wellbeing. 


And yes, if you missed the live event, you can still watch the recording here:

Wish you the very best of mental health and joy. Want to add or ask anything? Just start or join the discussion in the comments. Thank you.


Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide

The literacy gap and digital divide are something we all need to ponder upon. It might seem like everyone is pretty much on the same page in terms of these two aspects, but the reality is way farther than our assumptions. Almost 773 million people (including both adults and young people) lack basic literacy skills, 617 million children and adolescents do not have the right set of skills for reading as well as solving mathematical problems, and more than 50% of children, as well as adults, are not learning worldwide. Astonished right? Thus an event was organized by THE ANTS to discuss how the digital and literacy gap can be bridged between the two extremes of the society.  

The event was organized on the International Literacy Day based on the board mission of the United Nations ‘Education for all. The event followed the United Nations’ theme for the International Literacy day- ‘Literacy for a human-centered recovery: Narrowing the digital divide’. 

The guests who put forth their valuable suggestions, knowledge, and provided inspiration to all the viewers were: 

  • Omar Hafiz: Development practitioner, Global Goodwill ambassador (2018), Founder of Steers, Founder of Pi jam foundation (which aims to increase digital literacy) 
  • Arpana Chandail: Who runs a library named ‘Kitab Ghar’, a school in Chenab Valley in J&K. Founder of Sahas NGO. She has also worked as a journalist with prominent media houses. 

Mr. Sharib Suhail, Communications and Media Officer at THE ANTS, commenced the event by welcoming the guests and thanking the audience for being a part of this ‘need of the hour’ event. 

The event started with the very necessary question ‘why is internet creativity important?’ 

Internet creativity: Significance, Need & Self-learning

Mr. Sharib pointed out how the pandemic has widened the digital divide and posed the question to Arpana Chandail about digital creativity and why she has introduced it to her own community as well. 

Ms. Arpana Chandail who joined the event from a remote village in J&K started off by describing how it is common to face internet connectivity issues in remote areas of the nation. Quoting her “I run my own school in this village and when I tried to keep the online classes there was one issue that was being faced by most of the children- the connectivity issues. Few of them did not have access to any digital resources like phones, desktops, and laptops, and those who did usually had just one phone for the entire family. Above all, children are not used to taking online classes and do not feel connected to the curriculum.” 

She further described how even parents weren’t aware of the process and that hampered her efforts to teach the children. She further emphasized the importance of self-learning and how it can help one and also how self-learning is not a common practice in India. She mentioned that if the education policies and curriculum can become more refined and focus on self-learning then there is a huge scope for literacy to penetrate even the remote parts of the nation and the digital divide can be narrowed too.

We need to change the perspective, and also the manner in which things were happening till now to make our educational system a success.

Arpana Chandail, Founder of Sahas NGO”

Information Overload: How to figure out what is important and what is not  

When the question regarding information overload on social media came up, Mr. Omar Hafiz gave his two cents by saying “for a lot of people or precisely for people of our generation Facebook and other social media platforms were solely for messaging. But today they have also become a source of information for many. For instance Twitter- People stay updated about what is happening around it. Too much information is definitely an issue when it comes to social media and digital space. 5-6 years ago we would have never thought that we could gain information from social media but now here we are.” 

He further explained how he and his team handled the emergency situation of 2019 in J&K when access to media and information was suppressed. They distributed pen drives so the students can complete their academics and also reached out on one on one basis. He explained how we can reach out to someone within minutes through the phone but in one such situation they could only reach out to one person at a time. But eventually, things got better, calling was permitted and telecommunication conferencing was allowed followed by the availability of the internet. Even though it wasn’t as smooth as it is supposed to be, the technology still helped us keep going. 

“The overload of the information is the necessary evil and we have to get used to it being a part of our lives”, Omar mentioned. He further told how he has proposed the idea of a hybrid model of education even after the pandemic so one is used to both the ways and can tackle emergency situations without hampering the learning.  

Taking a quote from what Arpana said regarding the connectivity issues, he conveyed that everything happens in phases. We need to penetrate the technology in villages and rural areas through phases only. As now, all things are becoming virtual and anything can happen at any point. 

Arpana also agreed with this idea of a hybrid model of education, she believes it is necessary to impart the skill of self-learning and to be prepared for all kinds of situations. She emphasized how important it is to develop independent learners and thinkers and how we need to stop making students dependent on teachers as well as parents for learning. 

Digital literacy: Narrowing the digital gap, Media literacy & Learning technology 

Mr. Sharib raised a concern about how people in urban areas are fluent with technology but on the other hand, it is a task to even explain its usage in rural areas. So he asked how digital literacy can be taught better or how one can bridge this gap. On this Arpana Chandail enlightened us about her own few initiatives that focus on doing the same. She discussed that besides ‘Kitab Ghar’ she is also working on some other projects namely- BBC Reporter, Fakeshala. 

In Fakeshala she was working on a project where she visited villages where technology has made its way but the people are still not aware of how to use them and also how to differentiate between the right and wrong information. Right now whatever they see on mobile phones the news of any information to them seems true. So she was working on digital literacy and media literacy in those villages. 

She said, “initially it was a bit challenging for people but when they started practicing they got a hold of it. I also observed adults saying that children are learning faster than them. It is because these things like mobile phones and the internet were introduced in our era and we had to learn to use them. But the coming generations are taking birth in their presence, so they are easily getting a hang of it since they have been seeing all this work since they were born.” 

She further added, “It is definitely a task to teach how to use technology but what is even more challenging is to handle the pop-ups of information when mobile phones are in the hands of children. We need to see to it what information should reach them and whatnot. We also have to make parents aware of the same.” 

She discussed that before the pandemic the debate was on how dependent one should be on technology or what is the correct amount of usage of mobile phones and laptops and so on. Now the debate is on what kind of information should be consumed since the exposure to the internet and digital space was for hours during the pandemic. 

“The kids figure out how to play during the online classes and learn to make excuses. In this case, my responsibility increases manifolds”, she added. She further said that not just children but also adults need to keep a check on what information they are consuming and forwarding.

We need to understand that everything that is being served to you on social media and the internet is not true.

Arpana Chandail, Founder of Sahas NGO

On this divide and how kids are able to dodge the online classes, Omar gave his opinion saying, “we might laugh at this childish behavior of children but if we look at the other side then we will understand that the aged teachers who are almost digitally handicapped and had to teach online all of a sudden were facing issues in connecting with children. But this behavior from the students’ end resulted in a lot of this nuisance. Some people left their jobs, others were unable to tackle the pressure, and some couldn’t teach at all.” 

“To mitigate this gap between the information senders and the receivers we need to understand from a marketing perspective. In marketing, we first create a need and then sell the product. For instance, before the pandemic, several families did not have mobile phones but they had to eventually buy them because a need was created. So if you would ask me if the information is being sent and received the right way then I would say partly yes and partly no.”

He discussed how he had the opportunity to organize and attend workshops where he met people from different strata of society. He said that we found out that in elite schools and colleges where people belonging to sound economical backgrounds have actually given a good response to digital learning by making it a part of their curriculum.

Omar said, “I would like to answer your question by counter questioning that are we taking an onus of this information dissemination and filtration, or are we just in the race for the sake of formality? So it’s a matter of taking responsibility as well. We need to think about whether we have pushed this generation to self-learn. Have we capacitated them to understand how to utilize technology?  Just passing the information is not enough as they can simply google that themselves. But the whole point of it is to teach them asynchronous learning. For instance when I would give the assignment to read something I would then have a 30-minute discussion meet over it. Because when you are not instructed to do something a certain way, everyone consumes and understands the information from a different perspective and that opens our eyes to a different aspect of a single piece of information.”

When we will drop this traditional grading system we will actually see significant improvement in the educational sector.

Omar Hafiz

Mr. Ormar concluded by adding that teachers also need to accept that they cannot force every single child to learn the same way. They need to understand the fact that every student is going to learn his own way and have his own understanding of things. The understanding and interpretation of the information would be different but the outcome will be a novel or original thought. Instead of a grading system, we can have an assessment system as per the level of children. 

Further projects: With aid of digital space 

When asked by Mr. Sharib about the projects the guests might take up further and use digital space for them, both Mr. Omar and Ms. Arpana shared about their upcoming projects zealously. 

Arpana Chandail started off by discussing her intent to expand the ‘Kitab Ghar’ initiative. She said, “we are planning to take it to other parts of the state (J&K), remote districts, and small villages. The purpose is to create the availability of books for those people who do not have easy access to them. These books will be both in traditional and digital format. So, the project is inclusive of technology as well which will help in bridging the technology gap. Next, we have a digital library on cards for the time being we are working on.” 

Omar said that his approach would be to reach the areas where they fail because of a lack of technology. “We are coming up with several virtual activities, for example, we started this one virtual league where we play football with children virtually. We are trying to instill competitiveness along with self-learning in the process”, he said.” 

He also talked about another collab which he is doing named- ‘Spreading Smiles’. This is a program run by girls, for girls. Where they provide the girls with cell phones to teach them soft skills. He emphasized that it is an ongoing program and the second circle of it will be introduced soon. 

Mr. Omar then discussed the core program of his organization- The Community Leadership program. In this program they zoom into four things: 

  • Self-exploration
  • Self-acceptance
  • Leadership 
  • Conflict-transformation

This is a program that will help students get started in life early. 

Omar said, “we are going to use the digital space by creating a lot of online resources for students and we have networked with a lot of organizations for the same. All these resources would be free and cover a lot of aspects of learning.”

Zero Hour! 

A common question was asked by many viewers and the guests gave their extensive insights on the same. 

“What we on an individual level can do, to overpass this digital divide?”

To this, Arpana Chandail said that “things won’t change until we change ourselves, we should help others to change, we should help them adapt to what is coming. This realization is the first step of the journey.” She further explained, “we do not necessarily have to go big on our efforts. We can start small and take care of our surroundings themselves. That would be a great thing too.” 

Omar said that we need to take one step at a time. “We need to start with our family, sit with elders, listen to their stories, and teach them the new things”, Omar said. “We need to expose our family to new information and make them acquainted with technology and help them evolve, we need to take up that responsibility”, he added. 

He concluded by saying that acceptance of reality is very important so we can work holistically on it to change it. 

“What are other techniques other than rote learning that we can use to teach children?” 

When asked this question, Aparna Chandail eloquently replied: “Age plays a major role in learning and teaching. We need to get rid of the affection while teaching. Teach the child to accept, to listen, and give them a perspective to understand to help them work out their motor senses. Start teaching through shapes as all the words have circles and straight lines. When they will learn this, they will start enjoying this and come to you on their own to study and read.” 

“If the child is as young as 3-4 years old, then first focus on building a relationship with them. Then start with the teaching and learning process. Develop a relationship with mutual respect and the process further would be smooth. Also, do not pinpoint mistakes as they are a part of the learning process and let them learn their own way. If you’ll pinpoint every step of the way then it will hurt their self-esteem and they will become dependent and become sheep instead of coming up with novel ideas.”

Help the children become creators, not followers.

Arpana Chandail, Founder of Sahas NGO

Omar added, “There are a few stages psychosocial stages of learning, first is trust and mistrust, the second is inclusive of autonomy, ownership, shame, and doubt, and then comes the third stage of initiative vs guilt. You need to keep these three stages in mind during the initial learning years of children. Throughout the process, you need to appreciate, support, and then give feedback to do better.” 

The event came to an end by thanking our esteemed guests for giving their valuable suggestions to the audience and by helping us to take our vision a step forward. 

Here is the video link if you want to witness the live event:

On International Literacy Day: ‘Literacy for a human-centred recovery: Narrowing the digital divide’

Raise Your Voice: Women Literature Festival at Jamia Millia Islamia

“Think equal, build smart, innovate for change” — That’s the theme of International Women’s Day 2019. Education and literacy have always been the basis for building an equal world for all genders, including women. And to celebrate and promote literacy for women, YourVoice, in collaboration with THE ANTS, organized Women Literature Festival 2019. YourVoice is a poetry and storytelling platform founded by students and alumni of Jamia Millia Islamia University.

The festival was organized on 27-February on the campus of Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, with an aim to applaud the incredible and courageous achievements of women in our modern society and inspire the attendees to work towards a more women-equal world through a mix of literacy, arts, and culture.


A gathering of about 10,000 people joined the one-day festival. Among notable people who graced the event were Indian singer Vidya Shah as the guest of honor, Registrar of Jamia Millia Islamia Mr. A.P. Siddiqui (IPS) as the chief guest, poets, entrepreneurs, sports personalities, and singers.

After the inaugural ceremony, the event kicked off with a panel discussion on the role of poetry and literature in women empowerment, featuring Arfa Khanum Shervani, Anusha Rizvi, Aditi Maheshwari, Dr. Meher Fatima as the panelists. And it was moderated by Garima Dutt.

The panel discussion was followed by “Kalaam-E-Khawateen” — A series of poetry by women poets including Gayathri Mehta, Rupam, and Tehmeena, who left the audience overwhelmed. 

After the poetry session, social entrepreneur and founder of MAATRITVAA Ishita Singh and International World Cup individual silver medalist Pooja Aggarwal took the stage and inspired the attendees by sharing their stories of triumph in the business and sports world. 

During the event, attendee women took full advantage of the open mic to come on stage and share stories and anecdotes with the cheering crowd who filled the campus with burgeoning rounds of applause and “wah-wah!”


In the concluding phase of the event, “Manto Ki Kahani” story read by RJ Sayema melted the hearts of the attendees. At the same time, the sentimental stage play by Shilpi Marwaha led Sukhmanch Theatre moved the audience into endless emotions they could not stop flooding through their eyes.

To conclude the event, coke studio singer Dhruv Sangar and Sufi folks gave an energetic Sufi musical performance on celebrated songs like Allah Hoo Allah, Bhar Do Jholi Meri, Nit Khair Manga, and Chhap Tilak. The mesmerized audience swang in joy, calling it a festivity to remember and cherish in the time to come!

Graced by women who have achieved so much in their lives and careers, crossing all the traditional barriers in pursuit of their dreams, the event marked a tribute to the courage, determination, strength, and dreams of women while inspiring thousands of others to achieve theirs.  

The event was also covered by major and local media houses, including Times of India, DU Updates, and Respect Women, and applauded by the attendees, making it a success.