Recently my colleague, Max Barker, and I spent some time in India to visit and film the schools and educational centres Sopra Steria supports, and meet some of the students, teachers, volunteers and recipients of our scholarships. What I saw was transformational – demonstrable positive impact.
In only 8 days, we travelled to our three main Indian centres (Chennai, Pune and Noida). Although it was a short visit, it doesn’t take long to get a sense for the scale of the need in India. Until this year, India had for decades held the undesirable distinction as the country with the world’s largest proportion of its population living in extreme poverty, less than $1.90 per day.
And of course the population we’re talking about is huge – over 1.3 billion – an unimaginable figure for most of us, but one that you start to get a feel for in the country’s frenetic cities, where even as gleaming new buildings and signs of development appear everywhere, so do heart-wrenching scenes of hardship.
But next to the scale of the need, I saw something else: in our visits to schools, and conversations with students, teachers, principals, volunteers and my colleagues, I saw determination and dedication like I’ve never seen. The students, ranging in age from 6 to 17, came to school joyful, curious, anticipating their day of learning and ready to work hard. Every day we visited at least two schools, and the warm welcome from students and staff, boisterous greetings from the children, and the visible commitment to learning was always inspiring and energizing.
We were also honoured by several of the scholars we are supporting through university to be invited to their homes, where we saw that despite extraordinarily challenging circumstances, these young people are the embodiment of hope and ambition. They told us how they planned to do well in university, get a good job, then help support their families. One scholar, pictured below, had lost her mother and had basically raised her sister while her father worked in low-paying jobs, still managing to come top in her class and get into a good college. The three of them lived in one windowless room in a highrise slum in Noida, the possibility of complete destitution never far off.
The hundreds of people making our schools and scholarships programme also made an indelible impression on me, from the Sopra Steria volunteers who give their time to teach classes and are met with riotous cheers from the young pupils who love them, to the retired engineer who volunteers full time at a girls’ school in Noida, teaching maths. Our programme works because of their dedication, too.
Our programme is special for another important reason: it takes a holistic approach that yields sustainable results. All of the recipients of the Sopra Steria scholarships were once students in the schools that we support, which means we have been working with them, supporting them, getting to know them, their families and their circumstances before they apply for a scholarship. We select our scholars based on academic performance and potential, and financial need, all of which we have real insight into because of the depth of our relationships with them. Unlike other programmes that simply fund scholarships without that connection to the students, the schools, the teachers and principals, ours helps to ensure that our investment is not just in an individual, but in their family, their community and their collective future. Our scholars are committed to building a better life not just for themselves, but for as many people as they can reach by getting into gainful employment and sharing their success. Our relatively small gift is multiplied through their dedication and generosity of spirit.
Over the coming months, we’ll be releasing several videos from our time there to introduce you to the work of the Sopra Steria India Foundation and the Sopra Steria Scholarship programme. Keep an eye out for these so you, too, can see how these powerful programmes are making a huge difference.
Authored by Jen Rodvold