Swapaksh Learning Foundation is the story of kindred spirits with diverse talents coming together around a shared vision: Enable children from underprivileged communities to get the academic and social education they need to become fulfilled as individuals and constructive members of their societies.
One of the organization’s founders is Ajanta Purkayastha. Now a teacher and social activist, she was born into a life of affluence and privilege, living first in Delhi and then in Mumbai.
But despite her high social standing, the world of India’s desperate slums was also uncomfortably close, and that increasingly caused Ajanta great distress. Determined to actually do something about it, she started Udaan India Foundation in 2004 which has since expanded from 20 kids to about 450 today.
Another founder is Meera Ashar, who contributes very different, critical skills from her extensive background as an investment advisor and realtor. She also utilizes her experience running a movement-education center that serves kids in early childhood.
The third founder is Elora Ghosh, a dedicated educator who sees her calling as helping children that other schools have given up on. Because she showed how these kids can actually succeed under the right conditions, the other two founders had the confidence to go ahead and make Swapaksh Learning Foundation a reality.
Also key to the operation of the Foundation are the many Volunteers who apply their own unique skills and life experiences to giving the kids a leg up. It takes everyone to make positive outcomes happen!
How Ajanta connected with Meera Ashar
It happened that both were drawn to attend a Satsang, a spiritual discourse group in Bangalore. Upon visiting the slums, they discovered that they shared a passion for helping educate kids who are forgotten by the system and began visiting those areas together.
There they encountered many of the same obstacles as Ajanta had in launching Udaan India Foundation many years earlier – mainly, earning the trust of the children and their parents. So, armed with the experience of how to overcome these challenges, the women patiently managed to break through and win their hearts.
It all started in a mud hut
Armed with the resolve to make a difference, Ajanta and Meera continued to make heart-felt appeals to various landlords in the area until one finally relented and let them have a mud hut room in 2018. Once that barrier was broken, their journey had begun. With their relentlessness, they eventually secured four rooms in which to teach the kids. And with each passing day, the women could see the students become more and more engaged with the joy of learning. They got AkshayPatra involved to provide mid-day meals to the kids. This was yet another attempt to motivate the kids to continue coming to school.
As their interactions with the kids increased, they realized that in order to be at their best, children need to have a good breakfast and many of these kids went without, so Akshay Patra was invited to contribute to a breakfast program as well. The centre also enabled kids to remain longer at school for safety sake and to ease the burden on parents, who were out and about earning their daily wages.
Then, out of the blue, came the challenges of Covid-19
The organization’s first response to the government’s lockdown was to get immediate food assistance to 100 families for the month. Landlords were urged to put a hold on evictions. After the lockdown was finally lifted, Ajanta and Meera were able to begin online classes thanks to securing some old laptop computers donated to the centre. As a result, despite the pandemic, learning never stopped. Rather than giving in to their situation, the kids had something to look forward to.
Growing acceptance and support of the program attracted financial help from individuals and businesses as they saw how the children benefitted in so many ways. School uniforms could now be handed out which gave the kids greater confidence and sense of dignity. Knowing how vital sound nutrition is for kids to learn, a new program was created so that, in addition to breakfast, each child is given a nourishing midday meal to enjoy.
The ultimate goal: proper jobs and a place in society
Today, Swapaksh Learning Foundation serves underprivileged children from 5 to 15 years old through a centre in HSR Layout. This facility has four fully functional classrooms. From having 25 teaching volunteers, Swapaksh now has 10 paid teachers & 5 volunteer teachers, enabling 80 kids to climb the education ladder.
As always, everything is geared toward helping kids help themselves, to acquire the education and skills necessary to become valuable – and valued –members of Indian society. After grade 12, if they don’t want to go to college, they’re enrolled in vocational school according to their aptitude and interests.
“This is not just about changing that one life now. It’s everyone and everything around them as well. Hopefully, they will have the mindset to start something like this – teaching at the grass roots level – or in some other way pay this forward.
We believe that by inspiring kids to love a life of continual learning, they’ll bless everyone around them, with ripples going beyond even that. To us, when you witness lives being dramatically transformed, there’s no more beautiful sight to behold!”
-Ajanta and Meera
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