Aswathy Manukumar – Three things I learnt from Pestalozzi

Pestalozzi alumna Aswathy Manukumar, who graduated from the International Village in 2016, shares the three things she learnt from her time here.
At Pestalozzi, literally, every day brings us an opportunity to learn something new, and to choose and explain just three of them is a really difficult task. However, here are three ways in which Pestalozzi has influenced my life, or in other words, three things I learnt from Pestalozzi.
1. Be open minded enough to welcome the unexpected
The first thing I struggled with at Pestalozzi was getting used to people from different countries; there was so much to adjust to. “Negroes aka Africans are bad” is something I grew up hearing but it was at Pestalozzi that I met Africans for the first time. I was really scared of them at first; I wouldn’t stand near them or let them touch me. But as time passed and we became one big family, I realised what people think about them is rubbish and felt ashamed of how judgemental we could be. Each and every one of them there was too good. The way they took care of me, accompanied me, educated me on the things I didn’t know, everything they did only increased my love and respect for them. When we left Pestalozzi, I cried for them as much as I did for the others. Now, at home if I hear someone talking like this about the Africans, I defend them; I tell them how nice they have been to me and how we shouldn’t judge them. And I’ve done it to such an extent that none of my family members have this opinion anymore.
My Class mates and me – Front Row, 2nd from the right
My story doesn’t end here. Through this I realised, there are so many things that aren’t true but we grow up believing they are. I had lived with those thoughts about Africans for 16 years but if I had continued to do so, I would have missed out on the love they had for me. It is important in life to let go of some of the strings we are attached to, in order to embrace the new. Pestalozzi provided a platform for such insights for a number of youngsters like me.
2. It is OK to change plans as well as to not follow the crowd
When I was 12 I had decided I would be a medical doctor. I would take the science stream, crack my 12th class with 98%, crack the medical entrance in my first attempt and in five years I would be a doctor. I knew I could do it and I was determined that I would. Then Pestalozzi happened.
By the end of the first year at Pestalozzi, every student had made up their mind to continue their studies overseas. It gets to a point where all of our lives revolve around just one thought – “study at university abroad”. So like everyone else, I dreamt of my ‘Bachelors in the US’. I even got an offer to attend one university, but with a partial scholarship which meant I had to let it go and take a gap year instead. That was the first time I encountered failure in my life, or at least that’s what I thought then.
Indians don’t really understand a gap year, or at least the people in my village don’t. They consider it as a synonym for failure and I was blinded by the disappointment of not being able to go to the US that I too believed it was true. “So she got in but you didn’t?” people asked. The fact that some of my friends did go to the US, and I didn’t created more problems and confirmed my failure. I thought I would crack the entrance exam and be a doctor, but that didn’t happen. I also thought I would go to the US and do my Bachelors, but that didn’t happen either. After two months of feeling disappointed and helpless, I decided to change tack. While still applying to colleges abroad, I chose affordable Asian colleges and within few weeks I got into one in Malaysia. However, the total costs of studying here still turned out to be unaffordable. I approached different people, asking for help and failed miserably. No one was ready to help me and I gave up on Malaysia too. Throughout this process, I was having ups and downs of depression, stress and rays of hope. But were these really all failures?
In my gap year I worked for a few months, I helped at the Pestalozzi Selections 2016 at Bangalore, I travelled alone to different states in India, spent more time with friends and family, but more than anything, I realised it was OK that my friends went to the US and I didn’t. And I realised it’s okay to not have a detailed plan but to have a goal. My ultimate goal was to continue my education and here I am, doing really well in my Bachelors in Medical Microbiology at Dehradun. I don’t regret a bit about my gap year.
When people ask me if Pestalozzi was worth it, I tell them, “If I hadn’t gone there, my life would have been much simpler; Pestalozzi only made it more exciting to live and moreover, I would have never learnt to fall over and get back up on my feet again.” I will always be grateful to Pestalozzi for making me the strong, resilient person I am now.
3. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help and help others when you see the need
We often find it difficult to open up to people and ask for help. I used to have difficulty in even asking someone to pass me the ketchup bottle at the dining table. I tried my best not to converse with any staff. When I was sad, I would sit in my room and cry alone, but not tell anyone. As I grew closer to the staff at Pestalozzi, I realised they were a bunch of people ready to help anyone anytime. Of course, financial help isn’t the only thing we need.
Later during my time there, I could go talk to them at any hour of the day and they would be all ears to listen to my problems and help me fix them, Sometimes I didn’t even want solutions; simply talking to them was all that I needed. Sometimes they would notice that I was sad and then try to make me tell everything that was bottled up inside me. I was already a friendly person and helped anyone who asked for it but the relationships I developed with the staff created a sense of responsibility in me to help people who were too shy to ask for help but needed it desperately as well as making them understand it is OK to ask for help.
The help from Pestalozzi continued even after I left. Multiple times, during my gap year, I sent long emails to the staff explaining how depressed I had become with the things happening. Their replies, full of positivity and encouragement, helped me hold on and as I started the next phase of my life, studying for a Bachelors Degree in Dehradun, it was my time to give back.
One of my friends was having the same problems as me, and trying to finding college where she could afford to study. I talked to the CEO of my college and helped her get admitted here with a 50% scholarship. She couldn’t afford the costs of the college hostel so I moved out and rented a house where we both can stay and I can pay the rent. I am not rich but my expenses are covered by the education loan I took, and I could do this much for her. She could only find enough money to study for her first year at college, so I talked to some people I know and one of them agreed to lend her the money she needs to complete her studies. When her mother fell ill and couldn’t go to work, with the help of my friends I managed to send her family some money too. However, she never really asked me to do anything.
I am not showing off about how great of a person I am, but want you to understand how much Pestalozzi has made me a selfless person. The way people help each other there, build strong relationships and become determined to take on any challenges has inspired all of us. Let alone ask me for help, she was too reserved to even share her problems with me but I had learnt from Pestalozzi to read the eyes and figure out the problem. I didn’t spend that much money on helping but she has a new life now.
Thank you Pestalozzi, for now I know I won’t have a second thought in helping someone in need.

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