AVSAR scholarship by Akshaya Patra – Fuelling a thousand aspiration

New Delhi: For 17-year-old Soma Malik, scoring 86% in Pre-University exams came as a deserving accomplishment to her hard work and dedication. The results were announced in May earlier this year, with6.53 lakh students in Karnataka appearingfor the exams. Pursuing her dream to work for an IT company as a Software Engineer, this teenager is already preparingfor competitive exams. Daughter of a daily-wage labourer and a single parent, Soma represents the aspirations of many children who often tread the route of dropping out of schools and colleges due to the financial constraints of the family.

As per the statistics from the National Sample Survey Office (NSSO), the drop-out rates from educational institutions are surging every year. Some of the prominent reasons are:

· 35% of students in the age group of 15 to 19 have to work to earn extra income and support their family

· Over 24% of students drop out to help at home

· Over 16% of students between the age of 10 and 14 drop out of school to help in household

The AVSAR scholarship programmeis initiated by The Akshaya Patra Foundation to address the concern of school dropouts due to financial constraints. Since its inception in 2014, the programme has nurtured the dreams of over 4,000 students by bridging the gap between these students and institutions that offer scholarships.In essence, Akshaya Patra plays the role of the facilitator and sources scholarship opportunities for deserving students from the wide array of scholarships offered by the Government and corporates.

The programme is a part of the Foundation’s flagship initiative, National Endeavour for Student Transformation (NEST), to go beyond the mid-day meals and facilitate the holistic development of children. It aims to “identify deserving students from underserved sections of society and nurture their aspiration by providing financial aid.”The objectives of this programme are:

· Empower students in Government and Aided schools through scholarships

· Motivate students to make the best use of Government and private scholarships available

· Reduce dropout percentage from schools due to financial constraints

In 2014, the year of inception of this programme, Akshaya Patra sourced annual scholarshipsworth₹3,51,129 for 20 students from corporates.Since then, the programme has seen significant growth. In 2019-20, the fifth year of the programme, the scholarships provided toover 1,547 students across the country accounted for ₹2,33,02,871. All the students were chosen based on merit and need. In the current academic year, the team reviewed5,831 applicationsafter profiling over 14 thousand students. Throughout this journey of six years, the AVSAR scholarship has impacted the lives and aspirations of over 4,000 students.

One ofthese beneficiaries is 18-year-old Veerendra. The scholarship has not once but helped him thrice to continue his studies. Son of a single parent and garment factory worker, his dream of becoming a microbiologist is a step closer, he quips. A scholarship of ₹20,000 was first offered to him when he was in 2nd PUC.Subsequently, he applied for the same for the next two years. He is one of the beneficiaries of the programmefor the academic year 2019-20.

“As a child, I wanted to study science and was always excited about it. Though I wanted to study MBBS, lack of funds in my family made me opt for the next best thing that will keep me close to the medical field–microbiology. I want to pursue a career in chemistry, botany and microbiology. I want to pursue a career in biochemistry and hopefully, do my PhD in it,” says the aspiring scientist.

The AVSAR scholarship programme empowers students like Soma and Veerendrato follow their aspirations by addressing their financial difficulties. But there is more to it. For 23-year-old Dhanush, a former beneficiary of the programme and now an architect at a reputed firm in Bangalore, the scholarship was a highlight of his job interview. He jumps at reminiscing the day he gave his interview. He shares, “Earning a prestigious or merit-based scholarship can make the awardee a more attractive job candidate. Employers who understand the competitive nature of the scholarship will recognise it as an accomplishment. This not only reduces the school dropout rates but also increases confidence and support system to these children.”

For many families, this financial freedom leads to a more encouraging and holistic environment for students to continue their education. Such success storiesserveto inspirethe AVSAR team to put in more efforts to extend the programme to other deserving students.Most often, over 60% of students are not matched to any funds due to limited reach, online process, and tedious documentation. 40% of funds are not matched to any students due to lack of awareness and support, mistakes in the application, or their lack of proficiencyin English. In such cases, the team at AVSAR revisits these applications after consulting the donors to check if the cut-off percentage can be relaxed. In some cases, the applications are re-submitted with more details or converted into digital forms to reduce errors and provide assistance to the students and their families in the application process.

In six years, the AVSAR programme has covered over 329 educational institutions and has profiled thousands of students in a pursuit to financially empower their aspirations. The programme intends to find its way to many more deserving students across the nation and fuel their aspirations, one scholarship at a time, one ‘avsar’ at a time.