Puja Nikalaje

Growing up in a poor dalit family in Asade village, little did Puja dream that she would one day be studying in Italy – at the UWC Adriatic. In fact, she probably wondered if she would even have the opportunity to finish school. Sometimes, the young girl wanted nothing more than to be allowed to forget the difficulty of being dalit and female, and to just play freely with her best friend, an upper caste girl. The two were inseparable in school. But one day, when she went to her friend’s house, the grandmother gave Puja water in a separate glass because of her caste. With tears in her eyes, Puja recalls how her friend (also an Akshara student) argued with her grandmother and stood up for her.

I want to be a doctor and help poor people. When I see Katakari (tribal) kids I feel bad that there is so much of economic/cultural difference among people. I have seen the Akshara team working with Katakaris and I think I have learned a lot from them. If I don’t become a doctor, I will make sure that there is a good hospital in this community.

Puja Nikalaje

Saraswati Devrai

When Saraswati first reached UWC Canada, she didn’t know if she would even be able to understand what people around her said in their unfamiliar accent. Despite the preparation during the pre-IB course she had attended at Akshara, the girl from Badur village in Latur district withdrew into a shell of silence. But gradually, with some counselling, and drawing on what she had learned at Akshara, Saraswati found her feet and started to make friends and participate in campus life. When other students began to ask for her help with their studies, she was elated!

Saraswati recalls how Akshara made her see how pointless copying and rote learning were. She started thinking about things differently. She had many questions and doubts about sexuality and gender. Reserved though she was, Akshara allowed her the space to come forward and speak and perform. Saraswati wants to come back and do something to make life in her village of Badur better.

Had there not been Akshara, I would not have studied after 10th. My parents’ mindset has changed now. My younger sister Laxmi can study what she wants. My parents took the initiative for her admission. They used to visit a quack instead of a doctor but now they use their rational thinking and go to a proper doctor.

Saraswati Devrai

Deepali Tikone

Deepali studies at the UWC Waterford in Swaziland and has been associated with Akshara for five years. She remembers how the Akshara team came to her village and introduced activities that helped them to learn many things. She also remembers making group presentations, in which they gained knowledge but also learned teamwork and people skills. Deepali feels strongly for the UWC mission statement that sees education as a uniting force for peace.

In Akshara, there are some people who are my role models and I want to be like them in the future. I want to do social work like them. I would like to help people who are. Akshara showed me the world. After finishing my education I would like to work in Akshara.

Deepali Tikone