Tea shop to school transformation: Journey of a social entrepreneur

“When there is nothing, there is a possibility of everything.” -Ann Brashares

For as far as I can remember, my life began at my father’s tea shop. I was always helping him out there after my school, carrying my books along to study in my free time.I successfully completed my matriculation with 76% from Pillangkatta Secondary School (under Meghalaya Board of School Education) despite several ups and downs in my personal life.

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Mr. Ravi Chowdhary, Founder, Talent Hunt Committee

It was in school when the little light of working in the social sector first began to spark in me. But, I wasn’t clear on the approach I had to follow. I remember the day I decided what I wanted to work towards. While in High School, I saw an advertisement on the Principal’s notice board about an Essay Writing Competition on any one of three given topics, and I selected “Education For All”. The competition was organised by Classmate Ideas For India Challenge 2010 by ITC. After 2 months a call came to me from the organising team saying, “Your Essay has been selected in top 500 among 60000 entries across India and you are invited to take part in the Final Round Presentation at the State Level in Guwahati.” I had won the 3rd Position and my rewards were a number of educational material and a certificate of participation. I also received other goodies which I distributed in my school among students the next day.

Post school, I wanted to study Science for graduation but I took a personal decision to pursue Commerce as my family couldn’t afford to fund my education had I opted for Science.Taking up the responsibility for my own education, I enrolled in Dispur College (Under AHSEC and Guwahati University) but my results weren’t great as I found it hard to concentrate for a year. So, I was running a small stationery shop in my village and gave after school tuition  on the side to support myself.

Talent Hunt Committee: The Genesis

Some of life’s best teachings come from facing and overcoming challenges on our own. I learned a lot throughout my life, enough to motivate me to get where I am today. In 2011, with an amount of Rs. 6000 I had saved, I planned to organise an Inter School Programme for all our local schools. This idea came from the fact that we never got platforms to showcase our talents during my school days. While discussing this idea with the local head, school leaders and friends, the headmaster of one school suggested that I name this initiative, Talent Hunt Committee.

The first event I conducted exceeded my own expectations. 186 participants from neighbouring schools joined in for this. It was hard to conduct an event for so many people with just Rs. 6000, but during a field visit, Derest Nongrum (Officer In-Charge) of Pillangkatta Out Post Police Station promised his support in raising funds. It was his support and network that helped us organize the event.

In 2012, I applied to the Liberal Youth Forum of India, New Delhi and got selected to attend the National Workshop For Young Leaders 2012 at New Delhi, Chattarpur. Being in the presence of 24 Young Leaders across India and to learn about their initiatives was inspiring. Two of these young changemakers – Bikram Nayak (Orissa), Gold Medalist in Master of Social Work and Beena Choudhary (Bangalore) would soon become close friends of mine, who also guided me through my own journey of making the idea of  Talent Hunt Committee stronger. We were seeing an increasing trend in student participation for activities like Poem Writing, Drawing, Speech Competition, Quiz Competition.

 In 2014 and 2015, we organised the Republic Day and Independence Day celebrations in a public place. Cultural performances were being held for the first time and I got the opportunity to anchor the event – enhancing my own communication and speaking skills.

Adharsa Rastra Bhasa Hindi Medium School is one of the closest to my heart because students in this school come from under resourced backgrounds, motivating me to do something for them. Overtime, from a one-man show, my initiative was being joined by teachers from this school.

Towards Whole School Transformation

The lack of time limited my engagement in many areas. This was always a prick-point for me. I was working part time as an accountant in a private firm so I could earn a little extra, which took up a lot of time I could have spent working on field. I needed that one opening to expand my work and impact. Organising events and getting students participation was great but it was not a sustainable solution. I was looking for answers. This came to me in the form of Mantra4Change and EduMentum. This year, Talent Hunt Committee was selected to join the Cohort ‘18 of the incubation program which supports early stage non-profit organizations working in the field of education.

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Cohort ’18, EduMentum

EduMentum helped me go back to the field. What I learned during the two Base Camps organized in Bangalore as part of the program, helped me approach the community in a better way. After Basecamp 0 (April 2018), I came back to Meghalaya and we constructed 6 toilets in the New Era Academy. This school had only 2 toilets for 200 students and staff members. We did this in association with Balaji Hardware who provided us with the raw material for this project. Apart from this, we have been working on different drives like “Joy of Giving”. So far, we have also been able to organize free dental health camp in the Timbogkre and Mayoung villages, a number of students and the people living in these villages benefited which also increased our organization’s recognition, making our field work and team work.

Now my focus is more towards engaging with the schools at a deeper level and create a larger and sustainable impact. This program enhanced my understanding and learning of the ground realities  and helped me create a deeper focus into Whole School Transformation by creating systemic changes in the education sector.

-Written by Mr. Ravi Chowdhary, Founder, Talent Hunt Committee, Cohort ’18, EduMentum 

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