A Closer Look at Giving Back

Rajiv Gandhi

I am Rajiv Gandhi, a former school sponsorship student. My family is an agricultural family living in Kananthampoondi, a remote village in the Tiruvannamalai district of Tamil Nadu, India. In my family, we have eight members including my parents, three elder brothers, two elder sisters and me - the youngest. My parents are illiterate; the main financial source for my family is agriculture.

Over the years, due to the changing climate, the water level in the well on our land has continuously decreased due to poor rainfall. Thus, year by year, the income that we get from farming has been drastically reduced. Due to this, my parents were unable to spend any money on my education.

Here in India, we have government schools that give free education, but not quality education. These schools suffer heavily because of insufficient teachers and poor infrastructure. Many students who study in the State Government schools drop out by the 9th or 10th standard (grade). My second oldest brother is an example of this. He discontinued his school education when he failed 9th standard of a government school. After seeing this, my parents wanted to give me a quality education, but were unable to do so because of their financial situation.

By this time, Shanthimalai Trust had started a school in Kaveryiyampoondi, another remote village in the Tiruvannamalai district. My parents sent me and my third oldest brother to this school, the "Sri Ramana Maharshi Matriculation School", in the academic year 1994-95. With the guidance of the teachers and the Headmaster, my brother and I began our education with great success. The school provided us with a quality education, a free breakfast, and a free mid-day meal.

Why am I telling this? Because here in India, private schools are mostly located in urban areas and are mainly profit oriented. Economically disadvantaged students from rural backgrounds cannot afford to attend these private schools. But Shanthimalai Trust has filled this gap with free, quality education in a rural area. Now local students can complete their school education successfully and enroll in college.

I am an example of this. After graduating from the Sri Ramana Maharshi Matriculation School, I entered college with the full sponsorship support of Shanthimalai Trust and completed a Bachelor's degree in English Literature in the academic year 2003-04. Every Saturday throughout my college years, I participated in sessions with other sponsorship students who were doing their own higher studies in different places. All these interactive sessions were held at the Trust. Sometimes, we also engaged in social work like cleaning the Girivalam Road or contributing to other social awareness programs. Education has made a progressive path in my life; I can't imagine how my life would have been without Shanthimalai Trust.

As no college in my district offers post-graduate work, in August of 2004 I went to Chennai for my post-graduate studies. With a full Professional Training (PTP) scholarship from Shanthimalai, I joined the M.A. program in English Literature at Presidency College. During this time, I had a lot of opportunity to develop my spoken English, and took every seminar I could to further these skills.

After successfully completing my post-graduate studies, I started looking for a job. The seminars that I took during my college days helped me to present myself well and speak fluent English during the job interviews. Finally, I was selected by a well-regarded IT company in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu, five hours by car from my hometown. Wherever I am or whatever I do, I never forget my roots or that my foundation in life was laid by Shanthimalai Trust. So whenever I get the chance, I come back to the Trust to offer my services - like lecturing the Sunday classes of sponsorship students in the development of their spoken English.

By 2009, I saw that the job I'd held for 3 years in an IT company didn't bring satisfaction to my soul. So I decided to enter the field of teaching. I left my job and returned to my native home of Tiruvannamalai and joined a college as an Assistant Professor. This college is one where most of the graduating students are the first ever from their families to graduate from college. And most of these students belong to a financially vulnerable population. Both the work experience I had in the IT company and the life experience of living in a big city has helped me to coach these rural students in developing their job and communication skills. I worked from 2009-2014 in that college and now many of my students are leading a quality life. They are working in various institutions or companies, taking care of their parents, and acting as role models in their villages for "what education can do in a poor man's life".

Currently I am working in a school called the Sri Srinivasa High School in Adiannamalai Village. In this school the majority of students are orphans and the rest come from economically disadvantaged families. It's like they come from a slum area, and what they need first is love and caring, and then, secondly, education. I feel happy to be a teacher for those students and know that I will play an important role in their lives. Education is the only thing that can remove all their obstacles.

Rajiv and his wife

I was married in June, 2015, and my wife is also a teacher. With the blessings of Ramana and Appa-Amma, married life is going well for us.

Shanthimalai Trust has changed many lives like mine from ignorance to knowledge, poverty to prosperity, loss of hope to faith, from a life full of obstacles to progress - and finally to a feeling of peace. Now my prayer to God is that whatever support I received from Shanthimalai Trust may be also given to many students like me.

Please consider sponsoring a child's education or making a gift to the Professional Training Program. For more information about how you can help, email: info@arunapartnership.org