AgEd and Willing: This group of teenagers are helping mothers and grandmothers learn all about using tech on Zoom

Vanika Sangtani and her team at AgEd conduct weekly workshops on several topics like technology and health and fitness for senior citizens 
Vanika Sangtani
Vanika Sangtani

The lockdown has been hard on everyone, but 16-year-old Vanika Sangtani realised that it brought with it a particularly new challenge. Staying at home with parents for hours together resulted in more misunderstanding and conflicts. When she spoke to her peers, she found out that this was a common problem. They loved their families, but there was this huge gap and her friends felt that their parents were not understanding them. 

Vanika wanted to understand what the problem was. So she observed the behaviour and started researching it. She found out that the primary issue was that a lot of the parents were not exposed to the process of learning and understanding, like the kids were. She explains, "We go to schools and colleges and we are constantly learning with our peers and that's why we're being more acceptable. A lot of our parents didn't have that. That's why there's a huge gap. Also, they find it difficult to adapt to the modern world. For instance, my grandmother had to constantly depend on me or my brother to use any gadget." 

Vanika felt that this issue could be resolved if the older people have a platform where they can sit with people their age and learn. "A lot of people that age live a very routine and mundane life. That is why a lot of them become disinterested and frustrated. So I wanted to give them a motive to live every day. That's how we started AgEd," she says.

AgEd is a digital school where they have separate classes for mothers and grandmothers. While Vanika was initially sceptical whether they would be willing to learn from people younger than them, she was surprised by the response. It was a challenge, but when they understood why they need to make a change and when they felt they were being understood as well, they were more open to learning. 

Now, AgEd has around 100 mothers and 35 grandmothers across the globe. They are also starting a programme for grandfathers soon. The sessions are conducted on Zoom. Vanika explains, "If you want your mother to be a part of the AgEd community, you can enrol her into the induction workshop which is a seven-day workshop where we touch upon different topics, but basically highlight the need to learn, we talk to them about self-love, and use games and other activities to make them feel comfortable." This is conducted by Vanika and her team. 

For the activity sessions, they have collaborated with different companies and experts in different fields. They conduct weekly workshops like cooking, health and fitness. Whatever subject you are interested in, you can opt for it. The classes happen predominantly in Hindi, but they also have a separate group for those who understand only English. In the future, they plan to venture into other regional languages too. 

Recalling some of her favourite moments, Vanika says, "There was this grandmother from Kerala who has been living in Gujarat for a very long time, but she never learnt Gujarati and ended up living sheltered within her home, never going out. But after joining our classes, she was encouraged to learn the language just to be a part of the community. The beauty of AgEd is each and every case is special. We had a mother who was very interested in health and fitness. She earned a belt in taekwondo and she started her own fitness group for ladies in her society. There was another lady from Bihar. Two years ago, she got paralysed and since then she never got out of her bed even though she could. She just lost the motivation to do anything. So her family enrolled her into our class. Once we conducted this cooking competition and she was so excited and motivated. She cooked for the entire family after two years. If you saw what she prepared, you would never imagine that this was a lady who didn't get out of her bed for two years. Even her therapist appreciated us after seeing the drastic change in her."

But of all the positive stories, what really touched Vanika was her mother's own transformation. "I did this for my mother, and one of the most beautiful moments I had with her was when I did a session on kindness and gratitude and she came into my room and hugged me and cried. That was the best moment we shared." Vanika wants one message to resonate through her work. The fact that everyone has a passion or talent, and if they want to change the world, they need to use that. "Changemaking is as easy as following your heart and sharing it for the greater good of the world," she concludes. 

Vanika concludes. Vanika is one among 19 teenagers across the country who were selected as part of the Ashoka Young Changemakers initiative. 

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