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Did you know that less than half of Indian children complete their education? The statistics for such a developing and powerful nation are dismal, to say the least. The future of our country needs to be educated and that’s exactly what Shaheen Mistri is doing with Teach for India.

One of the world’s most growing and strong economies, India is outpacing other countries rapidly. India is also one of the world’s most populated nations. Having an active, young population makes it crucial that they are educated, taught useful skills and guided to great jobs. India could effectively gain leverage over China by educating and empowering its young and the children. While this paints a rosy picture, India is still home to the largest number of poor people in the world next to Nigeria. Poor Roads, Lack of infrastructure, diseases are real and terrifying issues the country still battles with on a daily basis. An Indian educator, activist, and author, Shaheen Mistri wanted to do something about the situation.

Born in Mumbai to a Parsi family, Shaheen Mistri spent her childhood traveling around the globe. Moving to almost 12-13 different countries and living in various cities expanded her worldview. She saw the quality of life, education and vocational skills provided to children. The income and economic status of these children didn’t matter, they received a quality education from good educators. At 18 years old, she decided to come to India. The education system in India had intrigued Shaheen to a major extent. What she witnessed here shocked her. The disparities between government schools and private schools disturbed her. The children from the poor and lower middle-class families received little to no education. Shaheen decided to take matters into her hand and decided to teach underprivileged children. She wanted to ensure that poverty does not determine your fate. That if you worked hard enough and were given the right tools, you could succeed.

She founded Akansha Center in 1989 and asked her friends to help as volunteers. Children from low-income families were enrolled and taught various subjects. The response was so overwhelming that it became the Akansha Foundation. A non-profit after-school education project, it continues to give after-school tutoring to nearly 6000 children. Shaheen didn’t stop here. She knew there was a lot more to be done to educate Indian students and children. Finally in 2008, almost 20 years after Akansha, she launched Teach For India. The idea came from Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America. Wendy explained that leaders, teachers and sharp minds of every country owe a duty to the future generation. They need to pass on the torch by teaching and guiding them in their journey. India’s youngest and brightest minds could be utilized to mentor and guide these children. Graduates, researchers, post-graduates, entrepreneurs, and scientists apply from all over the country to be considered for a 2-year program. These applicants are selected through an exhaustive process by a panel of experts. The selected candidates are then transferred to cities around India to teach in low-income schools and villages.

Teach for India has risen slowly to become a savior for the needy children. Tasking young, bright minds to teach and guide was a genius move. The teachers empower the children and become real role models they can talk to. The children see what education and a good upbringing can result in and it motivates them. Shaheen Mistri now has 1250 fellows or teachers under her wing and they all are committed to education. Shaheen and Teach for India have been recognized for their amazing and relentless efforts. She is an Ashoka Fellow, an Asia Society 21 Leader, board member of several foundations and a Global Leader for Tomorrow at the World Economic Forum.

Featured Photo: Nirvana School by mrbichel under CC BY 2.0

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