Giving kids in India a fighting chance.
On Thursday, November 9th, a gala was held at the Bowery Hotel in New York City to raise money for the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project. This organization specializes in bringing state of the art education to some of the most impoverished areas in India. The school gives an opportunity to children coming from poor families a chance to go to school and complete up to 17 years of education. And with the first school being such a huge success, the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project is looking to create a second school to expand its reach to the children of India.
The host of this gala was Hasan Minhaj, known for his work on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, his Netflix special, Homecoming King, and his work at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. The guest of honor at this event was host and author, Padma Lakshmi, who has given her time and money to this organization because she has faith in this project. Also at this gala were three former students of the Shanti Bhavan School who shared their experiences of coming from poverty and now having a career and bright future ahead of them. We were able to speak to these three students, Shilpa, Manula, and Preetha, along with one of the founders of this project, Dr. Ajit George.
Q: What is it like for you to be here at a gala that is raising money for a second school?
A: It is fantastic. It is a fruition of a dream. I have been wanting to see a second school for almost a decade now. I feel like a first school is a school, a second school is a movement. It is the beginning of a transformation. And the opportunity to reach more kids and have a transformative effect, not only in their education but in dealing with poverty alleviation, and changing the fabric of society and how Indians think about equality.
Q: And from what you have seen yourself, how has this school already impacted its students?
A: I think they are just getting warmed up and what has happened is that it is impacting their immediate families as well. A lot of the kids are their primary or even sole breadwinner for their family. And they are slowly starting to impact the communities and then eventually they will start impacting the larger society like corporate structures, develop organizations together, I see a lot of change.
Q: And in ten years, where would you want to see this organization go?
A: In ten years, I would hope to have three schools. And I hope our graduates will start building up companies and organizations and are founding them, or going to mid level or high level management at different companies. And if so, they can start changing the society of India, or at least the sub societies.
Preetha, Shilpa, Manjula:
Q: How has the Shanti Bhavan School impacted your lives?
Shilpa: Everything that I am today is because of Shanti Bhavan. I am the first in my family to graduate college. I have a master’s degree in psychological counseling and I have taken over the role of the leader in my house. And people look up to me. I would never have had that type of leadership or respect had I not come to Shanti Bhavan and been empowered, both as a woman and as an individual.
Preetha: Education has made me into this confident young lady that I am today. I am able to help my family in ways that I have not been before. And I am able to teach my brother, who is older than me, things that he doesn’t know and I am really proud of that. I empower myself as a woman. I come from a patriarchal society where my brother is always higher than me and I have to do things for him and I have always felt that that has been very unfair and I wish to change that.
Manjula: Being educated in Shanti Bhavan has given me a chance to take control of my life because usually girls are not given the chance or the opportunity to take control of their lives. When you are in an impoverished background, you can’t always do that and Shanti Bhavan has given that to us. To make our own choices and to do what we want and to also help everybody else. It is not just that we go back home and teach our family what we have learned at Shanti Bhavan, but we also teach our community. That is the best impact.