When Shelly Mittal visited India — a country the World Bank says accounts for approximately one-third of the world’s population of those in extreme poverty — during her winter break, she visited a children’s school in Jaipur for low-income students and was overwhelmed with emotion at what she saw.
Elementary school students at Arpit Children’s Academy walk to school barefoot each day at 7 a.m. and continue their studies until approximately 5:30 p.m, sitting on dirt floors and sharing a single pencil, Mittal, a senior majoring in psychology and biomedical sciences, said. All, she said, because they are hungry for an education.
“They’re learning the things we learn here, but with minimal resources,” she said. “It’s really refreshing to see how eager they are to learn.”
The school, established in 2002, teaches students to an English medium curriculum, providing them an education in reading, mathematics, science and basic English.
For months prior to the trip, Mittal said she and her family had planned to donate books to the children’s academy after hearing about it from a relative.
Mittal and her high-school aged brother, AJ, collected books from AJ’s school library and from Doctors Without Borders at USF, a student organization of which Mittal is president.
Together, the siblings gathered gather approximately
75 to 100 textbooks, which they donated to the academy when they visited.
“The (books) we primarily got them were storybooks,” Mittal said. “Some history books about Abraham Lincoln and anything our old high school cleared out of their library. I think the students would benefit more from mathematics and science books. The main thing we got this time were Disney books, but the kids really enjoy them.”
For two days, Mittal said she and her brother taught the children at the academy multiplication tables and helped them get familiar with their textbooks. A majority of their time was spent interacting with and getting to know the children.
“We got to meet the kids, and it was amazing,” Mittal said. “It was really touching to see them, and they’re actually doing really well. They have so many opportunities, given the circumstances.”
The academy has about
125 to 150 students and six teachers, AJ said. Plans are in the works to expand by adding a high school.
As the school continues to grow and welcome older students, Mittal said textbooks donated by students at USF will make an even greater
In preparation for her next trip in December, Mittal said she is working to spread the word about her cause to other students at USF, in hopes that they’ll donate their unwanted books to the academy as well.
“If we were able to do it on a much more vast scale, it would be much more helpful, and the kids would be able to learn more,” she said.
Mittal said Doctors Without Borders may hold donation drives in the fall during Bull Market, so students have a recurring and regular place to donate their textbooks.
“We wanted to do this last semester during finals, because that’s when everyone doesn’t need their textbooks anymore,” Mittal said. “And I know that I have plenty of textbooks that I’ve never sold that will go to these kids.”
Mittal is working on a documentary about their visit to the academy to show what it is like for children getting an education in Jaipur. Once the project is complete, Mittal said she plans to publish the video online for others to learn about her cause. She is getting assistance from AJ, who created his own video for a class at his high school.
AJ said he hopes students that watch the documentary will learn something from it and see that any contribution to their cause is helpful.
“I hope it changes them,” AJ said. “I hope it makes them a little more aware of the global community and how we can help out, and that there’s an infinite number of ways we can do it. Whether it be actively volunteering, raising money, donating books or anything.”
Students interested in donating textbooks to Mittal’s cause may contact Doctors Without Borders or reach out to Mittal directly.
“This really puts things into perspective of how fortunate we are,” Mittal said. “USF is such a diverse school, and it would mean so much if they could actually invest in changing somebody else’s life in another country. … These kids strive for a better future, and we can play a small part by helping change that and
opening some doors for them.”