Nadia connection for UK award winner
Sanju Pal, 37, a management consultant in London with roots in Nadia’s Dhubulia, has been conferred with the “Points of Light” award by the British Government as recognition of her charity that seeks to improve education both in the UK and rural India.
Last week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson conferred the award that recognises outstanding individuals who have been making a change in their community and inspiring others.
Sanju is the 1,306th winner of the award that has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA.
Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded so far in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light, UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with the award to recognise volunteering for social work.
In a personal letter to Sanju, the British Prime Minister has written: “I know you do this with no thought of praise or reward, but allow me to offer my own recognition of how you are improving education for students in the UK and in India.”
Speaking to The Telegraph over phone from London, Sanju said: “I felt very happy to be awarded by the Prime Minister. It was very unexpected but highly inspiring.”
Sanju through her charity RISE (Rural India School Enterprise) had started a unique literacy programme in 2012 titled “Yearn to learn”. The programme is a supplementary intervening coaching in schools in Nadia that aims to improve literacy rates among children, reduce dropouts, increase school retention and raise the aspiration to learn among the children and their parents.
Daughter of Sunil Kumar Pal, a chartered electrical engineer, Sanju was born and brought up in London. She had done her MSc after obtaining first-class honours degree in mathematics. At the age of 23, she became a teacher after obtaining ‘Qualified Teacher Status’ (QTS), a mandatory degree for teachers in London and joined the Mulberry School for Girls in London.
“I was born and raised in London but my parents, who came to the UK in 1967, encouraged me to visit and learn about the challenges of rural India. When I became a teacher in London, I decided to help students in India and at the same time empower my students in London through social entrepreneurship,” Sanju said.
While working as a teacher, Sanju had developed a participatory programme called ‘Enterprise Challenge’ to develop a sense of responsibility among students in the UK through extra-curricular activities. Her endeavour earned the prestigious ‘Tech first Learmonth school project award’.
After this, she founded RISE in 2009 and which has so far supported over 1,000 students through “Reach Out And Rise” (ROAR) Challenge in the UK and through ‘Yearn to Learn’ in India.
Her inspiration to work in India happened during her visit to her ancestral village Shondanga in Dhubulia during a 2012 vacation.
“During a visit to our ancestral home, I tried to find out how many children of class five in my area could not identify Bengali alphabets. I asked them to read a story from their books or from a Bengali newspaper. But, many of them failed. I was shocked to realise that they could not even identify the Bengali alphabets,” Sanju said.
“I found that these students attended schools only for mid-day meal. I also interacted with their parents who were hardly aware of the progress of their child in school. Later, I conducted a survey that revealed at least 46 per cent of the children of 10 years were at least 3 years behind their expected reading level. This led me to plan a programme for the children who are at the risk of dropping out,” she added.
To help children overcome their shortcomings, Sanju launched “Yearn to Learn” as a pilot project during August 2012 in three schools in Krishnagar. It started as a supplementary coaching twice during the weekend at the end of their regular classes. The three schools extended support by identifying students for the project.
“It is not an alternative to the regular teaching imparted in the school, rather supplementary support to the children. Our goals are to improve literacy, reduce dropout and to raise aspirations of children and their parents”, Sanju added.
A teacher in Krishnagar said: “In primary schools, teachers cannot take individual care that creates the problems among children. Sanju’s programme helped to overcome problems”.
On the other hand Sanju’s ROAR Challenge is a programme of workshops that inspires the UK students to set up their own social enterprise to support students under “Yearn to Learn” in India, by establishing an intercultural partnership that strengthens their role as global citizens.
Sanju used to make time in the evenings and weekends to oversee RISE’s operations in the UK and India.