Kalash was elected an Ashoka Young Changemaker from India in May 2022. This story was written through a consultative process during their selection to our global community.
It was in the months following the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic that Kalash noticed her help’s daughter, Pooja, accompanying her mother to work. On prompting her to open up about her situation, Pooja explained that since her family’s earnings have declined considerably after the pandemic, she has had to quit school and focus on earning. Besides, she added, she had lost interest in studying too. This was quite concerning for Kalash, seeing as how they were both the same age, but due to the lack of resources, one of them was forced to make hard choices. Upon further digging, Kalash discovered that due to the pandemic, 15 crore children across the country had dropped out of educational institutes while a million more were at the risk of dropping out.
The pandemic had clearly created a detrimental divide amongst students, with only a small percentage being able to afford education as before. To amend the situation as best as she could Kalash started teaching Pooja and her brother, Rahul, in their backyard every evening. Soon, more children from her immediate vicinity joined in and the class of 2 grew to 20. “If a patch of 1 km from 1 city can have at least 20 kids who need help with their education because of only one factor, monetary insufficiency, how many such kids from the state, country, and the world exist?”, wondered Kalash.
This thought prompted her to take action, she thought of an idea that would benefit not only the underprivileged children in need of education but also the youth of the community. Taking a leaf out of the Singaporean education system, she sought to involve youth in a social activity that helps underprivileged children while providing tutoring and change-making skills to the young persons involved. With the help of her brother, she started propagating this idea through social media, schools, and local newspapers. “We funded the whole system from our award prizes and scholarship money. The results were awesome! We got a lot of responses and people were enthusiastic to support us with their time.” This was how Fun Learning Youth (FLY) was born.
There were many instances wherein children didn’t want to study despite the opportunity. Kalash recalled one such story about a boy, from Jalgaon, who refused to come to the very first class. After attending the class, his friends told him about the fun and interactive ways they learned in class and how excited they were about the laptops. He went in the next day but seemed uninterested. To revive his interest, Kalash tried to talk to him. “I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up, and he didn't want to be anything, he never thought about it, but that's impossible for a 13-year-old to not dream. I knew. I almost begged him to come for the class the next day and lured him to reward him with chocolates every day he comes.” That worked! He bought his books, attended classes regularly, and even expressed a desire to become a police officer one day. “We don't just teach them how to read a book or do well in exams but we teach them life skills. I have taught numerous kids how to sign their own signature, to open a bank account, get a driver's license, etc.”, said Kalash.
“Pooja, our first candidate, is enrolled in the education system now like many others and practices vocational activities of her interest like sewing,” she remarked. Through outreach on LinkedIn, Instagram, Discord, newspapers, science community platforms, and local volunteers, the organization has reached thousands of people and mentored more than 700 young students.
Over the next few years, she hopes to make a long-lasting impact by enhancing the quality of education provided by FLY. She wants to do so by partnering with professionals and established organizations. “Not just this, through our campaigns and outreaches, we aim to inspire thousands of changemakers we want to see in the field of rural development, climate change, poverty eradication, sustainability, and all the other SDGs by the UN,” she added.
This story was written by Prachi Vats.