While at one end, the world is filled with marvels of technological advancements, the pendulum swings to the other end that is made of poverty, unfulfilled basic needs, and desperation. Poverty is not just the absence of money, food and shelter; it is the absence of nurture, happiness and hope for a different, better future. Belonging to this dark side are millions of children who beg, pick up trash, sleep on roads, refuse heaps, and experience neglect and even abuse at the hands of adults. This state of deprivation and joylessness is neither shocking nor is it rare. Yet, while the plight of these children may make one feel sorry, very few are willing to do something to change it.
Avinash Singh Alag is one of those very few who have looked at this problem squarely in the face and taken decisive action to tackle it at a mass level. An alumnus of the prestigious Doon School and a practitioner of law at the Bar Council of Delhi, he has experience working with youth as a counselor at the University of New Hampshire, USA, and as a lecturer at the Indian Military Academy Dehradun and Fort William, Kolkata, India.
Avinash also founded the Blossoms School in Meerut in 1996 and, as its headmaster, has since set a high bar in imparting all-round education based on experience and observations for better growth and development.
The Unyielding Need to Do More
Ambitious and driven, he possessed a relentless need to do something worthwhile. That is why, on a fateful rainy morning of 2001, when he looked outside at the empty courtyard of his school, realization dawned that he had an unspent reservoir of energy and eight hours to do something with it after his school students left for the day. The next morning, along with his colleagues, he devised a plan to find needy and deserving children in their vicinity and impart education of use to make them capable of uplifting themselves.
A decisive man, Avinash believes the secret to success is ‘Taking Action’. Every small action also makes a difference. He says, “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness.”
A study of slum children near his vicinity revealed that many children living there did not attend any form of school throughout their lives. Expected to become penny earners for their families, these children generally started begging or performing menial chores like trash picking and shoe polishing. Without a nurturing environment at home, they often turned to petty crimes, drugs, gambling, and violence. Avinash and his team also realized that lack of proper nutrition and hygiene made them susceptible to diseases and disorders, thus making them miss a lot of school days. Moreover, schools were also shunning these children. The team concluded that a lack of community guidance and support was their biggest issue; thus, these children were not ready to become part of regular schools.
Planting a Garden of Knowledge
Avinash and his team then came up with the idea of taking the school to the children rather than forcing children to come to a strictly structured environment. This is how GYANODAY VATIKA (The Garden of Knowledge) was born. An informal school with handpicked teachers from the same neighborhoods as the children, Gyanoday Vatika is designed to ensure that the children are comfortable coming to school. Classes are held in tin sheds, under the trees, and temporary shelters. The aim is not only to make the children literate but to also inculcate moral and social values in them.
So along with teaching reading, writing and math, moral science, social values, and basic hygiene lessons are also given. Special emphasis is laid upon raising awareness against getting into crime and its consequences. In addition, the curriculum includes arts, crafts, and vocational training.
Avinash’s work motto – “Know Yourself. Recreate Yourself. Elevate Yourself. Make a Difference,” is astute and deep, and Gyanoday’s goals are based on them. Gyanoday’s education imparts the underprivileged children with dignity, confidence, the ability to discern between right and wrong, and the capability to create a different path for their future, ultimately paving the way for the betterment of their families as well.
Today, the school has 21 centers across three states and has transformed the lives of 1.2 million people. It has provided scholarships for 0.5 million slum children to undergo formal schooling. As a result, 0.2 million people have gained employment, of which 180,000 are women. Gyanoday’s learning process, ‘Roots to Fruits’, accepts students from 3 to 21 years. Their Vocational Training and Livelihood Programs have gained enormous appreciation from renowned agencies worldwide.
Avinash’s immense contribution to the social upliftment of children has earned him many accolades like The International Duke Of Edinburgh’s Gold Award, personally from His Royal Highness, Prince Philip; the ‘Master of Wisdom’ Award for rendering distinguished services in the field of Education and upliftment of the less privileged, from His Holiness, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Founder of Art of Living; The National Award for his contribution towards Education, from Mr. Ashok Ganguly, Chairman, CBSE; the ‘Social Entrepreneur Of The Month’ Award from DASRA, Mumbai; and several Rotary and Lions International Vocational Awards for distinction in the field of Education and Youth Empowerment. He has also been invited as a speaker to deliver a TEDx Talk.
Avinash Singh Alag has inspired all by believing that ‘I can’ is far more powerful than ‘IQ’. With the right motivation, underprivileged children can change their future, and their upliftment will lead to their family’s upliftment, thus transforming the world.