Our series "Teacher Warriors" honours some of the country’s best and bravest teacher warriors, striving to give kids a fighting chance at a better present and a future floating with possibilities. In the fourteenth episode, Nichola Pais speaks to Sujata Sahu, founder, 17000ft:
17,000 ft. Foundation owes its name to the towering pass that Gurgaon-based founder Sujata Sahu, her husband and a friend had crossed on foot to reach Lingshed, Ladakh. The organisation owes its success to its unstinting efforts within existing ecosystems to improve and transform lives in the remote Himalayan villages. Their programs work to improve schools and education, while also providing income opportunities for the locals and involving the youth and communities to contribute to their villages in turn. The foundation has successfully geo-mapped 1000 remote village schools of Ladakh, via a technology program called MapMySchool, which connects them to the outside world, facilitating trekkers and travellers to get involved. The Yountan Project works at improving education in schools, sets up libraries, conducts periodic reading programs, improves infrastructure by setting up playgrounds, providing furniture, and also trains hundreds of teachers annually. Volutourist@17000ft enables outsiders to contribute to a remote school while on vacation.
What was the trigger in your journey to starting 17,000 ft. Foundation?
An outdoor person at heart and a die-hard trekker, the trigger was a solo trek to Ladakh in June 2010. The trip turned out to be not just eventful, but also traumatic, as I undertook the trek without being able to acclimatize properly in the high altitude regions of Ladakh. Suffering from Pulmonary Edema, alone for my job as a teacher, finally convinced me that I had found the one place where the need was most and where I could contribute time and efforts to make a difference.
Providing holistic education to severely disadvantaged children... how fulfilling has this project of passion been?
I am extremely happy that we have been able to reach out to these children, who are extremely isolated and ignored and have absolutely no exposure to the outside world. To imagine that the terrain and geography can be a barrier between people is somehow unthinkable to me and I am glad that, through our efforts, more people are reaching out to these ignored villages.
What are the challenges you continue to encounter in your work?
I face the same challenges that every other non-profit faces, i.e. the challenge of trying to find a continuous source of funding to sustain our work. The other biggest challenge I face is trying to devote enough time to my family in Gurgaon and the three offices in Gurgaon, Leh and Kargil. However, none of my challenges in any way stop me from doing my work and I find that being optimistic and continuing to have faith is what helps me continue along.
There must be numerous heartening changes that 17,000 ft. has brought about in the lives of children…
There are so many that it is hard to list them all down. I will however, list a couple…
A little school in a village called Tigger, in the Nubra Valley of Ladakh has a government school that we have been supporting for years. We have setup a library, trained its teachers and also setup a playground and provided furniture in their school. Prior to our intervention, students – some even as young as four years - from this school had been going to a faraway private school, away from their parents, staying in hostels or dorms and managing on their own. After our continued support to this school, parents have pulled out their children from these faraway schools and brought them back to the government school, keeping them close to their families. Children do not want to go back home after school and stay late in school to play and have fun!
A little village called Latoo in Kargil, Ladakh, is a village in the actual LoC, and has been in the middle of the Indo-Pak war multiple times. Their villages have been torn apart; families split up across the border and even had to move bag and baggage during the bombings. 17000 ft. supported the school here a year and a half ago by providing them with a library and a playground and also trained their teachers. The entire village comes out to welcome our team each time we visit the village and have pledged extra support to keep their school running and performing well. Their teachers have been so motivated to run our Library Program that they conduct many activities, over and above what is required of them, resulting in some spectacular transformations in the reading levels of their children.
What do you see as the role of parents in the education of their children and the degree of their involvement in the school setting?
17000 ft. has made it its mission to involve parents in each of its missions as we believe that they are equal stakeholders, and that the development of the school will not be possible without their active involvement. Parents of villages in Ladakh contribute to the growth of the school by contributing their time, skills and often even money and labour to ensure that their children get quality education and a holistic environment to learn in.
This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue as a part of our cover story on Teacher Warriors. Subscribe to ScooNews Magazine today to have more such stories delivered to your desk every month.
Images courtesy - Sujata Sahu, 17000ft
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