Meet the Diana Award-winning teenager on a mission to help unprivileged diabetic children
Divaa Uthkarsha, a 15-year-old student from Bengaluru, won the Diana Award for her humanitarian project, Project Surya, which offers support to underprivileged Type-1 diabetic adolescents.
Divaa Uthkarsha was 13 years old when her younger brother Surya was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, a chronic condition where the pancreas produces little or no insulin. Though one can develop it at any age, it is more common to emerge in adolescents, teens, and young adults.
“It was really a shock for the whole family. I had no idea that such a thing existed. It took us all over a month’s time to come to terms with the fact that my 9-year-old brother had diabetes,” she tells SocialStory.
She recalls that after the diagnosis, her brother’s routine and diet had to be changed. Surya was lucky; both his parents were doctors. They had the best resources available for treatment and could monitor his routine and diet, which had to be changed.
As her brother underwent treatment, Uthkarsha, who hails from Bengaluru, became acutely aware of the immense challenges faced by children from underserved communities in accessing proper care and medications like insulin.
Netherlands-based NGO, Access to Medicine Foundation (ATMF), has highlighted global gaps in access to insulin due to the cost barrier, with variations in price and limited availability in low-income countries. According to ATMF's data, approximately 100 million people worldwide lack access to insulin, leading to preventable deaths and complications.
According to the Young Diabetes Registry (YDR), out of the 20,351 young diabetes patients in India, 13,368 (65.6%) were diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. As per the 10th International Diabetes Federation Atlas 2021, the number of children with Type 1 diabetes in India is 2,294,000 in the age group of 0-19 years.
“Such patients have to spend money on doctor visits and insulin, which is very expensive. They also have to maintain their diets,” Uthkarsha says.
She decided to do something about the situation and started Project Surya in September 2021, to provide help to underprivileged Type-1 diabetic adolescents across Bengaluru.
“At Project Surya, we believe that everyone deserves equal opportunities. But that is absent in the case of the underprivileged adolescent suffering from Type-1 diabetes. Through this project, I wish to go above and beyond to provide diabetics with the best care they deserve,” she tells SocialStory.
The sense of giving back to society had been ingrained into Uthkarsha from a very early age. She would see her doctor-parents tirelessly commit to healthcare and reach out to underserved communities via free health camps and volunteering in various medical campaigns.
“I think seeing my parents working for the underprivileged communities left a deep impact on me,” she says.
To help the underserved people, she joined the 1M1B—One Million for One Billion programme, an UN-accredited not-for-profit organisation that mentors youth under the Future Leaders Programme in 2021. Under the programme, she was offered help in designing the entire project.
“The 1M1B programme focuses on teaching impact-making to one million young minds so that they can make a difference to one billion people,” informs Manav Subodh, Founder and Chief Mentor at 1M1B.
The programme helps children become aware of the problems around them and find solutions. “Our main focus is to help these young minds in making a social impact from a place of humility and not from a position of privilege,” he adds.
Helping children with diabetes
The programme sowed seeds to start Project Surya, which takes the name of Uthkarsha’s brother. It follows a three-pronged approach—awareness, advocacy, and funding. The project aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal’ third goal of good health and well-being, and has reached out to 15,000 individuals.
The initiative has extended its reach to more than 100 underprivileged children in Karnataka living with diabetes. In close collaboration with the "Samatvam Science and Research for Human Welfare Trust”, Uthkarsha conducts awareness sessions for rural children. It has also conducted awareness sessions in schools across Bengaluru, covering around 2,000 students.
These sessions are conducted by endocrinologists, dieticians and other experts on the prevention of Type 2 diabetes and general awareness of the health condition.
Recently, Project Surya also conducted an awareness drive with 30 ASHA workers. “These ASHA workers are further responsible for 1,000 people in their respective communities. These awareness drives act like a domino effect,” Uthkarsha says. Project Surya has donated over 500 free insulin syringes to these children.
The project has raised Rs 1,50,000 so far. It also conducted a fundraiser midnight marathon in Bengaluru, which was attended by 8,000 people. Under the project, Uthkarsha has also filed petitions for removing the 5% GST on insulin to make the medication more affordable.
For her initiative, Uthkarsha recently received The Diana Award. Established in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, The Diana Award is the most prestigious accolade a young person aged 9-25 years can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.
“That moment was surreal for me. I cannot describe it in words,” she tells SocialStory. “…it shows that my project is being recognised by people across the world. I hope that from now on this initiative will continue to make life better for more underprivileged children suffering from diabetes,” she adds.
What the future holds
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Project Surya conducted most of its sessions online. However, recognising the importance of hands-on support, Uthkarsha now aims to focus on increasing offline counselling sessions and free distributions to provide more assistance to diabetic adolescents.
For Uthkarsha, a student of Class 10, managing her studies alongside the project can be challenging. “It does get overwhelming sometimes but I try to utilise every minute of the day. Because if you are passionate about something, you make time for it,” she adds.
She plans to extend the project further and introduce an “adopt a child plan” wherein a person can adopt a child and take care of their insulin needs for a longer period of time. She also looks forward to collaborating with NGOs to work towards the mental well-being of these children.
The project has been selected to be presented at the 1M1B Activate Youth Summit at UN Headquarters in New York later this year in November 2023.
Edited by Kanishk Singh