When Nikhiya was 12 years old, she realized that there are many children out there who do not have access to even basic resources to study. Entire class rooms of 40-50 children often share just a single textbook. Many students walk bare feet to school. School bags, pencil boxes, pens, paint boxes are a luxury. It is hard to remain motivated and do well in exams with such lack of resources.
Furthermore, the senior students had no access to labs or any form of practical learning. They had never conducted any experiments during their entire school year. They studied science only through textbooks. Just a day before their exams few students would travel far and wide to other schools to conduct some last minute experiments. As a result they often fared badly in exams. Low grades affected their self confidence and the students often dropped out of school to pursue menial tasks.
Nikhiya did a little bit of reading and came across some shocking data. An affidavit submitted by the Directorate of Education mentioned that about 75% of students had no access to basic school supplies like textbooks, uniforms, black boards, pens and paper. Furthermore a survey by the Unified-District Information System for Education revealed that only 38% of schools had laboratories. The Annual Status of Education report showed that almost half of children in Class V could not read a Class II-level text and only 10% of Class V students could do simple division. Poor content of education and outdated teaching methods were found to be the main reasons behind this problem.
Nikhiya decided to bridge this gap and has spearheaded 3 activities that provide the less privileged with access to better education.
Bags, Books and Blessings (www.bagsbooksandblessings.com)
Through her initiative Bags, Books and Blessings, Nikhiya aims to collect re-usable bags, books and school supplies and donate them to the less privileged children. She mobilized her entire school to donate school supplies like bags, books, uniforms, shoes, tiffin boxes, water bottles, paint boxes and stationary items. Her aim was to channelize all the surplus resources from various schools and direct them to schools that need them. She actively campaigned on social media, wrote to editors of popular news papers to create awareness about the activity. People from all over India responded to her campaign and donated in kind and cash. Not only did she collect a truck load of school supplies which came from people all over India, but she also gathered funds of Rs. 290816. The school supplies were distributed amongst 1200 children in 2015. Since Jan 2015, at the end of every academic year, Bags, Books and Blessings campaigns extensively to collect donations of re-usable school supplies. So far Bags, Books and Blessings have provided school supplies to 4200 students.
Yearn to Learn (www.yearntolearn.in)
Through Yearn to Learn, Nikhiya sets up laboratories of Physics, Chemistry, Biology and Math in schools that don’t have them. The volunteers of Learn to Learn identify schools that do not have laboratories. Then they meet the school staff and finalize on the type of laboratory equipments required and set up laboratories in their premises.
The funds of Rs. 290816 were used up in the setting up some of the initial laboratories. There was then a cash crunch. Without losing hope, she started a crowd funding campaign on ketto.org and actively campaigned to raise funds. As a result within a span of just 15 days she raised an additional amount of Rs. 125000 with which she completed the set up of the above labs.
3000 students from various schools today have access to these 15 laboratories. Like any other school going child, they now have easy access to practical and scientific learning and thereby an equal opportunity to excel in science and math subjects. In the very first academic year the grades of the students have shot up by 30% with almost 20% students receiving a distinction in science. The teachers and principal of these schools and colleges have acknowledged the enthusiasm and excitement amongst the students and how constant practice in the labs helped them do well. The fact that these laboratories need replenishments every few months is a sign that the students are utilizing it to the fullest.
Nikhiya soon realized that to set up more laboratories and to keep replenishing the stocks in the laboratories she will constantly need to generate funds and would need a self-sustaining model. Therefore in Jan 2017, she launched her own e-commerce website called www.knicnacs.com. The sole purpose of this website is to raise funds to sustain the activities of Bags, Books and Blessings and Yearn to Learn. The website sells quirky & unique gifting products. 100% of the proceeds from the sale of these products are directed to fund the above activities. The website is online since Jan 2017. In just 2 months, it has showed gross sales of over Rs. 200,000.
Using the above funds Yearn to Learn sponsored the school and college level education of 25 visually impaired children. Yearn to Learn has pledged to oversee the school and college level education of each of these 25 students till they graduate.
She has formally registered her NGO. It is called “Women Have the Same Set of Teeth as Men”, so that she can officially receive donations and can be transparent about how the funds are being put to use. She has received certification 12A and 80G so that all donations are exempted from tax.
Motivated by the impact of the labs and the improving academic results of the students, Nikhiya aims to start another 100 laboratories in various schools in the next 2 years. Her aim is to ensure that every child gets equal opportunities to learn and become successful in life. Nikhiya is hopeful that these laboratories will spark a passion for science and one day these students will become innovators and scientists & solve the bigger problems of the world.