Making education ubiquitous is something that Avni Singh, 16, always wanted to do. “When the lockdown began last year, I remember complaining to my friends about online learning. But, on reading the news, I saw so many students needed online education, whether it was better or worse than offline education. So, I started Project Neev to help Happy School in Gurugram. These students used to visit my school and we would take them around for guided tours. They were keen students but did not have access to the education that all children in India deserve,” adds Singh, who is currently pursuing an International Baccalaureate diploma in the 11th grade at Shri Ram School, Moulsari, Gurugram.
Last year, she heard about the Future Leaders Programme at 1M1B Foundation, and after a series of interviews, received a one-year full scholarship for the programme. 1M1B (1 Million for 1 Billion) is a United Nations’ accredited non-profit organisation that empowers the youth to take actions according to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) — quality education and reduce inequalities.
Singh says, “The year-long programme helped me build my initiative from the ground through interactive workshops and mentorship. I was mentored in figuring out the logistics. However, due to Covid, the last step, the 1M1B Impact Summit at the UN headquarters in New York City, has been delayed.”
As part of Neev, Singh conducted a need analysis at Happy School, and provided phones and/or mentorship in art and English, along with a few guest appearances from a philosophy teacher and some Taekwondo sessions by a friend to 40 students there. She even organised mentoring classes with the help of student-run American NGO, Hridya Foundation.
“I also provided phones to 10 others at Noida-based NGO Parkshala. Initially, I faced several hurdles. It was difficult to get in touch with schools as I did not get any responses to my emails. However, I learnt two things — it always works to annoy people and build personal connections. Both factors ultimately landed me a partnership with Happy School. But my fundraising options were limited in the lockdown, so I resorted to traditional crowdfunding, which was not as engaging. I would follow up with my neighbours, friends and relatives every day, and managed to gather Rs 1.1 lakh.”
Singh reveals that many of the people she is close to work in the social work sector, including an aunt, who have always inspired her. “I think that social work should be a part of everyone’s lives. When I first delivered the phones to Happy School, I met a young student who continued to educate himself despite not having access to a phone. He would borrow a device from neighbours or go to his friends’ houses to see the homework. Then we got him a phone, and he was able to continue his education from his own home,” she adds.
Next, she is in discussions with Sanjivani School in Mumbai to help students there. “Wherever I find people in need, I help them. But it is tough to find time for social work with studies, music classes, and extracurricular activities, so I allocate an hour per day to social work. On some days, I devote even more time,” says Singh, who is planning to take her model to 80+ schools and colleges around India.