Engineering To Educating Underprivileged Kids – Prashant Sharma

by | Feb 8, 2017

The application for the 7th cohort of India Fellow was underway and we were getting in touch with the alumni of the fellowship to see if they can help us in spreading the announcement. I knew that Prashant was just 7km away from our office and was working on setting up a science learning centre inside IGNOU (open university) campus for under privileged kids from public schools for accelerated learning. It was a very apt venue to put up our posters I thought. And so I called up …

Prashant Sharma is 26 years old and a dozen months ago started working with the Delhi chapter of Agastya International Foundation – a renowned non-profit working in improving primary education conditions across various parts of India. The Delhi team was new and needed setting up and operationalizing needed constant energy and enthusiasm. Starting from setting up the learning centre when kids could come after school to sharpen their understanding while having fun to get concepts of Math and Science. To monitoring the 20 odd instructors who were spread across public schools in Delhi. Some find this kind of work soul crushing, but his DNA is different. This is the exact kind of work, which gives the competitive Prashant more food for thought as well as motivation.

It was one thing to hear all this from him over calls, another to go to the centre that day and see it all. The mobile lab greeted me to begin with at the lawn outside. And as I parsed through the corridors and rooms of the centre – I felt proud …

The Agastya mobile learning van waiting outside the learning centre

The Agastya mobile learning van waiting outside the learning centre

The journey to this spot was not an easy one though. He has had his share of rough times and it is worthwhile to look at the journey a little more closely to understand the vulnerabilities of a young mind as well as the spirit to spring back. Born and brought up in Jamshedpur, Prashant completed his graduation in aerospace engineering from Jain University Bangalore with flying grades. Good grades got him thus far, he also was interested in learning what he did. But that was one of his multiple interests and at 22, after his graduation, the need to venture out was strong. Being a doer, he quickly did a couple of internships to gauge interest. One in his core study field and the other with the Children’s Movement For Civic Awareness (an active citizenship forum in Bangalore). The latter attracted him and exploring the development space became the reason why he reached India Fellow program.

That was also the year when the fellowship was running in a bootstrap mode and the choice to pursue it had it’s share of risks. Nonetheless, he took it up and started the fellowship with the required zeal at the induction training in Udaipur. As part of the fellowship, he was placed with Chaitanya – one of the founding partners of the fellowship and a very good organization to learn by doing. Given his temperament, the project was a fit – operationalizing the agri value chain for small and marginal women farmers, by providing forward market linkages. It all seemed nicely fitting and slated for a great fellowship year. It was a pilot of the project and the first six months were high learning curve.

In the sixth month of the placement, unfortunately, he met with a car accident and that was a set back. The couple of other co-passengers were hurt and being the driver left a deep impact on him. It took a considerable while to recover. The requirements of the projects also were steep and his inexperience at work was proving a hinderance this time. Perseverance often rescues us when the other things fail. Prashant stuck around. Being a marathon runner, he will tell you, the second half was slow – limping. But it also offered the maximum learning which all fell in perspective when the dots were connected backward.

The final month of the fellowship, he took up a small volunteering assignment of using the learning from the project work to help a small organization in Ladakh (called People’s Action Group For Inclusion & Rights – PAGIR) sell their hand made products by differently abled artisans in Delhi retail. It worked decently and that small gratification gave him back his lost confidence. He completed the fellowship.

The fellowship chooses to teach in more than one way. To the one who is prepared to embrace in whatever form it comes – learning never fails you. The scars are healed now and the year’s experience helped Prashant to not only gather valuable learning, but also find his interest for operations. A few explorations post the fellowship and he settled for his current work with Agastya (another host organization of the fellowship) described at the start of the article.

As I write this, Prashant informs me that he has had a word with the IGNOU head and they have agreed to put up our posters and send mailers to all their campuses and students respectively. This really boosts the outreach for us. Prashant comes from the cohort, which was run in bootstrap. And that adds to the proximity he has with its values and philosophy. He comes from time to time to help – in the most non-glamorous back office work as well. Has he, over the past 2.5 years completed his exploration and found his calling? Will he ever go back to his core academic area? Those are questions he will answer with time. But what he definitely has answered with his action is that it is not possible to not learn in whatever life offers you. And that truly makes him stand out for us.

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