“What do I achieve by getting educated abroad, when millions of children in my motherland are deprived of basic schooling?” – Shaheen Mistri
A piece of sandalwood emits a fragrance and only fragrance even while it is destroyed. Cows and Coconut trees are termed as ‘Kamadhenu’ and ‘Kalpavruksha’ in the Indian context as each and every by-product of these two living beings are of help to mankind. But expecting selflessness from a Human being is a tough ask. There are few exceptions and Shaheen Mistri is the epitome of such selfless character who has left her own career and educational goals abroad to achieve a bigger objective of empowering millions of underprivileged children of her motherland— India. Somewhere we can compare her gesture to that of Mahatma Gandhi who gave up Barrister Practice in South Africa to lead Indian Freedom movement though it might not be a movement as big as freedom fighters but definitely ‘Teach for India’ movement is an initiative needed by Indian Children as statistics reveal:
- 76% of students do not make it to a higher education system
- 40% of children in standard 3 cannot recognize numbers till 100
- 52% of children in standard 5 cannot read a standard 2 text
Reinforcement of Selflessness in Budding Stage
Shaheen Mistri was born on March 16, 1971, at Mumbai. Her father was a banker with Citigroup and had a transferable job. Shaheen has traveled to more than 13 countries in her childhood and had attended more than 10 schools. This international upbringing made her realize the inequality Indian children face back at home and whenever she used to visit India for holidays the apathy of kids used to haunt her. As she has revealed in an interview that her parents sowed the seed of selflessness in childhood days as they used to support their extended family and friends both economically and emotionally. Also, her mother was a speech therapist who used to interact with differently able children frequently. To be precise her mother was the role model who imbibed in her passion for teaching.
Turning point that led to inception Akanksha Foundation
It was a common practice for Shaheen to interact with slum children during her visit to India and teach them. Though in her school days she used to hate her vacation trips to India slowly she got used to it. But this incidence that occurred in the year 1989 when she visited India changed her purpose of life. At that time she was pursuing Liberal Arts study at prestigious Tuft University in the US. She was commuting on traffic-choked Mumbai streets when a group of small children rushed to her car pleading for alms. She was shaken by this scene. She questioned herself “What do I achieve by getting educated abroad when millions of children in my motherland are deprived of basic schooling?” She decided to quit her university studies and relocate to India. She walked into slums pooled 15 children identified a room and with help of friends as volunteers floated Akanksha Foundation in the year 1989. Akanksha is a nonprofit organization that provides after-school tutoring to low-income family children and has successfully educated more than 6500 children through its project school model. Here teachers employ innovative teaching methods and have won international accolades.
Akanksha—A Big Success, What Next?
Akanksha Foundation which started with 15 children in initial years grew up as After-School training centre with more than 60 branches and further to cater to the needs of children in various Govt. run schools they started School Projects in the year 2007 by collaborating with Municipal Corporation Schools of Mumbai and Pune and today they have associated with more than 20 schools in Mumbai and Pune cities. The success of Akanksha Foundation didn’t bring in complacency in Shaheen, instead, she grew restless as her aim was to scale up the good work Akanksha was doing and support the children across the Nation. She knew one in four people in India are below the age of 14. More than half the students in class V in Govt. schools cannot read a class II text or solve simple mathematics. Approximately 900000 vacancies for teachers exist in primary schools. She took up the Teach for America model and initiated Teach for India in the year 2008.
Teach for India (TFI) in Nutshell
TFI operates in two models. In the shorter version, it recruits college graduates and young professionals for the fellowship program and they work with low-income schools for two years and get certified with fellowship. The objective is to enlighten youngsters about the grass-root reality of Indian education system and build a strong pool of youngsters who can take up a teaching career in future. The other role is a permanent position with TFI as teachers, principals, policymakers and curriculum designers. Today it operates with 40000 students, 1200 fellows, 240 staff members and 1500 alumni.
Awards, Recognitions & Publications
Shaheen Mistry’s relentless work has earned her accolades across the globe. She has also penned down her rich experience as CEO of TFI in her book Redrawing India: The Teach For India Story published in the year 2014. She has been bestowed with various awards important among them is:
- Ashoka Fellow Year 2001
- Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum Year 2002
- Asia Society 21 Leader Year 2006
Abdul Kalam Fan Club wishes her greater success in future endeavors and requests readers to share information about Teach for India –TFI amongst young generation so that more youngsters take up teaching with passion in the country.