This New Jersey-based Indian is helping students in Bihar receive quality education
David Packard, the renowned American business magnate who co-founded Hewlett-Packard, once said, “The betterment of society is not a job to be left to a few. It’s a responsibility to be shared by all.”
Arushi Aggarwal has taken on this responsibility at the tender age of 16. Besides skating on ice while playing hockey and plucking the chords of the violin to reach the crescendo, the young girl spends her time providing free education to people.
Though Arushi was born in Haryana’s Hisar district, she is presently studying in Class XI at West Windsor Plainsboro High School South in New Jersey, US. When Arushi joined the global robotics community called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) in 2016, she understood the importance of learning programming and interacting with technologies at an early stage in life.
After dedicating almost five hours every day on coding, designing bots and engaging in programming games, Arushi and her team got selected to participate in FIRST World Championship. But the contest made her realise something.
“When I looked around the place, I could only spot boys. There was hardly any representation from girls. And, that made me dig deep into the reasons behind the low strength. When I spoke to some of the mentors and peers, I figured that it was lack of confidence and resources which were coming in their way of making progress,” Arushi Aggarwal tells SocialStory.
From then on, Arushi constantly kept ruminating about what she could do to bridge the gap. Two years later, in 2018, she kicked off an initiative named Unknown16 as part of which she created online resources and organised workshops concentrating on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and programming education specifically for school and college-going students in New Jersey.
To teach young individuals belonging to one of the least literate states in India, she began taking virtual classes on weekends. Arushi collaborated with the Lahanti Club, a youth collective in Bihar, to drive this project.
Today, she imparts knowledge to over 300 children and adolescents across four villages in Bihar.
Stepping out of the comfort zone
Arushi began her endeavour by putting together curriculums for both the online repository and workshops as part of Unknown16.
Her parents, both of whom have been techies, helped her in building the website – right from creating the sitemap, coming up with page layouts, writing the content, coding, to finally testing and launching it.
Arushi did not want to restrict her teaching only to the US. She desired to step out of her comfort zone to give back to India, her roots. Since she did not know how to reach out to the right people, she decided to get in touch with non-governmental organisations based out of India.
After sending hundreds of emails to multiple NGOs, pitching her idea of conducting virtual coding classes, the Lahanti Club, a voluntary group formed by young and motivated youths in south Bihar, responded.
However, eventually, Arushi realised that most of the children in the state did not know English and belonged to an ethic tribe called Santhal. Besides, they did not have any access to digital devices like tablets or computers.
But, Arushi was determined to provide an education. So, she took it upon herself to first set up computer labs for them. Together with Lahanti Club, she identified four villages in Bihar, (Naiadih, Kumbadih, Govindpur and Jabardah), which were in dire need of infrastructural facilities.
“Then, I started a crowdfunding campaign in October 2019 with the goal of raising $1,000 on GoFundMe. Along with a detailed pitch, I also mentioned the break up of the money needed to build the infrastructure and purchase all the furniture as well as desktops. Over the last year, I was able to garner $450,” adds Arushi.
Though the 16-year-old was able to only buy a few desktops with the limited financial resources, the enthusiasm of the youngsters in Santhali was such that they did not mind sharing the computers.
So, Arushi decided to give it a shot. From then on, she wakes up at 5 am every weekend to teach the children and adolescents on Skype.
“I am presently teaching them to read, write, and converse in English since programming is not something that can be learned without knowing the language. Once they gain a hold on English words, I plan to start with the basics of coding. I am also touching upon STEM,” says Arushi.
Arushi created learning centres where more than 300 underserved children can access technology and gain knowledge virtually.
An inspiring journey
Arushi’s contribution was not restricted to the field of education. In 2019, she was selected to participate in Reboot the Earth, a social coding competition hosted by the United Nations. The contest called for building a new software programme that can address the climate crisis.
So, Arushi worked on developing a mobile app that could track and incentivise users who undertook activities to reduce the negative impact of climate change.
“The app was called iBlum and the idea behind it was to encourage people to plant more trees, reduce the usage of plastic, buy energy-efficient appliances, and so on. Every time a person carried out these small acts, a coupon would get deposited on the app, which in turn was encashable through sponsors,” says Arushi.
The app won Arushi the first place in the contest and presently, she is receiving mentorship from The United Nations Technology Innovation Labs (UNTIL) to launch the app in the market. A few days later, she was invited to address the audience at Youth Climate Summit in New York.
Despite the rigorous academic workload, Arushi has been dedicating time to educate the underprivileged and inspire others to take action against climate change.
When asked about her future plans, she shares,
“I want to reach out to more and more children in the coming months. The excitement in their eyes when they learn something new is something I want to keep witnessing. In fact, it drives me to work even harder. More importantly, the kind of improvement they have been displaying in the last few months is amazing. My goal is to keep that going.”
Edited by Kanishk Singh