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How VidyaGyan is helping underprivileged children of rural India become the change makers of tomorrow

R Saritha
6th Jul 2017
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VidyaGyan, a rural leadership academy run by the Shiv Nadar foundation, provides education to bright students from economically weaker sections in rural Uttar Pradesh and nurtures them to become the catalysts of change for their community.

A platform to dream

Sixteen-year-old Nischal Bhardwaj from a remote village in Uttar Pradesh would have ended up with basic education and a regular job to feed his family but instead, he is headed to the University of California, Davis, to study psychology.

Having faced extreme poverty and difficulty in his childhood, he is determined to bring about a change in the society around him.

He once met a psychiatrist in New Delhi, who spoke about his research on disorders like schizophrenia, their psycho-social origin and how psychological first aid works on such patients. It sparked an interest in him, leading him to pursue psychology. Back in his village, Nischal organises career counselling sessions for his peers in the village high school, to help them identify opportunities outside the village.

Manvi Chaudhary and Nischal Bhardwaj

Manvi Chaudhary, the eldest of four siblings and daughter of a daily wage earner, would be joining Wellesley College, the alma mater of former US First Lady Hillary Clinton and one of the world’s top colleges for liberal arts, with a full financial aid of $75,000 annually for four years. Hailing from a small village of Uttar Pradesh’s Amroha district, the clutches of poverty could have forced her to drop out and support her parents to make ends meet.

Nischal and Manvi really had no clue what they wanted to do with life before they joined VidyaGyan, but now they have colorful dreams which they can watch turning into reality.

Creative philanthropy to move beyond charity

A radical social initiative of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, VidyaGyan is a rural leadership academy that nurtures high achievers from economically backward sections of rural India. It was established in 2009 as India’s first rural leadership academy for meritorious and underprivileged students from Uttar Pradesh.

Roshni Nadar, a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation.

The initiative, headed by Roshni Nadar who is a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, is founded on the principle of creative philanthropy which aims at creating ripple effect and change at the grassroots levels of our society. Uttar Pradesh was chosen as the launch pad for this initiative considering its vast population and the socio-economic condition of its people.

VidyaGyan has signed an MoU with the Uttar Pradesh government for the selection process. Every year the academy undertakes an intensive and rigorous selection process to identify 200 students from over 1,50,000 belonging to families with an annual income of less than Rs 1 lakh. The selected students are given the best residential education with world-class infrastructure facilities absolutely free of cost. The academy focuses on the all-round development of these students and invests in several programmes as part curricular and co-curricular activities.

From village to VidyaGyan to Minnesota

Manvi could realise her true potential only after she joined VidyaGyan. She was the first student from Bulandshahr VidyaGyan to win the Kennedy-Lugar Youth Exchange and Study Scholarship to the US in 2014. She traveled to Minnesota to complete Grade XI, acting as a global citizen, determined to bridge the cultural gap between students from different countries. She studied for a year at the Edison High School in Minnesota.

After she came back to India to complete Grade XII, she was invited to speak at the recently concluded Global Citizen India Festival on the potential of Indian village girls as future leaders. She is just 18, and has shared the stage with Google’s India head, the UNDP country head and celebrities from Bollywood and spoken about her journey from a village to VidyaGyan and then to Minnesota.

The VidyaGyan campus

The academy is focused on developing future leaders who can act as catalysts of change for their communities, villages and the nation at large.

I love studying, but before VidyaGyan I had no world view of the opportunities I could explore. Today my life is completely changed. I see a hope in my parent’s eyes and have faith that I can fulfil my dreams. I want to work with an international organisation like the United Nations and fix the problems of the developing world in future, says Manvi.

Currently, the academy has two campuses in Uttar Pradesh with a capacity for 1,900 students.

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