College of Ed alumna values, imparts NIU lessons
Lalitha Gowdanahalli Ramappa was teaching children with special needs through a spiritual organization in her native India when she came to an important realization.
“I didn’t have enough knowledge to teach them,” Lalitha says. “I wanted to learn more skills and how to be an effective teacher so I could really teach them better.”
That mission brought her to the United States – sponsored by her uncle – to enroll at the College of DuPage and, eventually, at NIU. She graduated from the NIU College of Education in December of 1993 with a master’s degree in special education.
Returning to India, Lalitha began volunteering at a school called Vivekananda Kendra, located in a rural area.
While there, she began applying her NIU training and evangelizing for the College of Education.
“I thank NIU for giving me such a nice education. I applied all of those skills in my school. I learned how to give them feedback, how to assist their skills and their intelligence, how to motivate them to learn,” she says.
She also taught English to the children, saying that many earned better grades in English than in Hindi. Her lessons also taught the children “good values” and “how to be happy.”
Her NIU experience similarly persuaded her to eschew a homeland tradition. “In behavior modification back home, we used harsh punishments to make them learn,” she says.
During her seventh year at Vivekananda Kendra, the school won a “best school award” at the district level and “best academic results” in the State of Assam for the year 2000.
Lalitha left teaching in 2004, moving to a cave in the Himalayas where she has lived since.
In the cave, located near the town of Gangotri, she enjoys “peace of mind and happiness” as she spends her days in prayer and living off the land.
Wild animals, including bears and leopards, are occasional visitors. “Sometimes they will come and sit next to me,” she says, “but they never harm me.” Telephone messages are delivered second-hand (and in person, obviously) by villagers in Gangotri who are aware of her home in the cave.
Anonymous strangers also leave food outside the cave, even though she asks for nothing, and somehow provide exactly what she might lack on that certain day.
“It is strange,” she says. “I don’t know how it works. I don’t have any explanation.”
Despite her Spartan lifestyle, and her departure from the classroom, she says her passion still burns for teaching.