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Global youth award for NGO in Gujarat

August 12, 2009 14:48 IST
Twenty nine-year-old Deepika Singh of Ahmedabad believes education is a powerful tool to bring about social change and that is why she co-founded Udaan, an education resource center that seeks to improve access to and the quality of primary education in rural villages and slum communities in Gujarat.

Last week, Singh and 19 others from different countries all over the world, including Pakistan, were named 2009 YouthActionNet (R) Global Fellows by the International Youth Foundation and Nokia.

The winners are distinguished by their innovative local solutions to urgent global challenges. Among the 20 Fellows are a 23-year-old Pakistani woman, Gulalai Ismail, who educates young women of the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan and 24-year-old Muhammad Shahzad, also from Pakistan, who founded the Chanan Development Association to empower youth, particularly young women, to combat violence, discrimination, and social injustice.

"Each of the 2009 fellows are passionate, committed young leaders who chose not to look the other way when they saw a problem, but to take a stand," said IYF President and CEO William S Reese.

"Through their efforts, companies in Colombia are learning how to operate sustainably, low-income farmers in Zimbabwe are able to send their children to school, and youth in violence-prone neighborhoods in the United States are learning to be peace-builders," he said.

Among the 20 Fellows are a 23-year-old in the United States who helps young female victims of sexual violence in Sri Lanka to heal from their past.

Launched in 2001 by IYF and Nokia, YouthActionNet(R) seeks to develop a new generation of socially-conscious global citizens who create positive change in their communities, their countries, and the world.

Each year it selects 20 outstanding young leaders for its Global Fellowship program. Through the 12-month program, fellows refine their leadership skills, participate in a week-long retreat held in Washington DC, and are recognised for their efforts at the YouthActionNet(R) Global Awards Ceremony.

Kirsi Sormunen, vice-president, Sustainability, at Nokia, congratulates each of the fellows for their outstanding accomplishments and contributions to improving the lives of others.

"Through their example, each teaches us the importance of creativity, perseverance, teamwork, and taking action to tackle society's most critical challenges," he said.

Udaan, started by Singh, is an initiative of Janvikas, an organisation that promotes human rights and social justice. Central to Udaan's work is the promotion of values such as equality, diversity, citizenship, and democracy.

"The goals of education need to be guided by the kind of society a nation wants to build," Singh said, adding that it's important to incorporate values that 'build dignified individuals, respect for diversity, and open minds.'

Among its activities, Udaan develops curricula, trains teachers, and taps the power of video technology to deliver educational content and engage youth.

Through Videoshala, Udaan creates kits consisting of videos, activity sheets for children, and a teaching manual with modules devoted to math, science and environmental issues.

According to Singh, Udaan's prior work in education showed that though providing teachers and school infrastructure can mitigate the issue of access to education, enormous rates of dropout and abysmally low learning levels are far more complex, difficult to understand and change.

Content which is homogenised and not linked to the child's reality, pedagogy which rests on fear and authority in classrooms, rote learning and prejudices of teachers came across as some of the vital issues.

Videoshala thus evolved as an attempt to demonstrate an alternate view and trigger change in some of the factors influencing education.

Since 2005, Udaan has reached more than 250 villages, impacting 12,000 children.

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York