Enterprising couple changing public education in Ladakh

This uplifting news comes to us from Ladakh, India.

Tsering Lotus is a student of class VII who harbors dreams of being an astronaut. This ambition would have been laughable just a year ago. In October of 2018 solar panels were set up at the government school where he studies and with it came to a spoonful of hope. Tsering now has access to a tablet filled with maths and science quizzes alongside stories and quirky facts.

Tsering’s school is shut down during the winter and it gets a couple of hours of electricity every day. Here teachers take turns to lug water in jerry cans from a nearby stream for drinking and cooking of midday meals.

Ushering in the winds of change to this land in the shadow of the Himalayas is a couple from Delhi who have quit their corporate careers to focus on the improvement of the public education system in remote and inaccessible villages of Leh and Kargil districts of India.

Way back in 2010, Sujata Sahu went on a solo trek in Ladakh and stopped for a couple of days rest in a hamlet which had just one home and two schools. There were only 13 students in total. Sujata was a corporate techie who was teaching maths and science at Delhi’s Shri Ram School during her sabbatical.

Sujata made a second trip accompanied by her husband Sandeep Sahu. This time they did not come empty-handed. They came bearing clothes, books, furniture, and sports equipment on the backs of 20 donkeys and horses.

In the succeeding months, Sujata and Sandeep quit their respective jobs and established a non-profit with Dawa Jora, a local Ladakhi businessman. The name of the non-profit was 17000 ft Foundation after the highest altitude the team had ever climbed.

The Foundation signed an MoU with the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council in 2012 and adopted over a 100 such schools, in particular, those schools that were on the border regions of China and Pakistan.

Because of the foundation’s DigiLab project which is a solar-powered digital education platform especially for students of the J&K board, students in 120 schools have been given laptops. Teachers have been given tablets and the classroom has benefitted from LED television. DigiLabs has also partnered with publishers to translate 20 titles into the local language Bhoti.

The schools are scattered over a wide area of 60,000 sq km hence the NGO put into effect a voluntourism project. Each volunteering candidate interviewed before they can take part in a structured 10-30 day stint of living in homestays and conduct reading sessions, help to set up playgrounds and also to lend a hand with the repairing of the school building. Till date about 400 committed trekkers have participated in this program.

As Sujata says,” We are seeing a reverse trend of children migrating from private schools back to the public schools in their villages. The numbers are still small and anecdotal but it is a start.”

Image Source: Achhi Khabre

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