Inspirational Women

Making Education and Technology Reach the Remote Villages of Ladakh

A trekking trip to Leh deeply impacted Sujata Sahu and she decided to provide better education opportunities to the kids there. She started an NGO and now works with the government to improve the education system in the remote villages of Ladakh.

There is no limit to education. And Sujata Sahu, who runs an NGO for educating the disadvantaged children, is taking education to new heights- 17000ft to be precise. With the ambition of improving the lives of people in remote areas, especially rural Ladakh, Sujata started the 17000ft Foundation and took education from Delhi to Leh, and much beyond. The project, which was started in 2012 with just a few schools, today covers over two districts and almost 900 schools of Ladakh. 

Educating children wasn’t a new concept for Sujata. Although she was working in corporate for 9 years in the US, in 2002, she quit and moved back to India. Since she has always been passionate about education and children, she started teaching in one of the revered schools in Gurugram. 

Students in the classroom

While sharing her experience of teaching at the school, Sujata said,

“Even though I wasn’t a teacher by profession, I liked educating children. But, during that course, I always used to question myself whether am I making a change. Those children had access to everything. Even if I wasn’t there, they could easily learn from the internet.”

Sujata has always been active in trekking programs on various mountain regions. But, the trekking trip to Ladakh altered Sujata’s life forever. As she was solo trekking in the high-altitude, bone-chilling, and barren Ladakh, she ran into two tiny schools. One with not more than five children and two teachers. Another with only seven children and one teacher.

“What struck me the most was, these were the people who really wanted education. They were going to schools with bare minimum infrastructure and struggling with a tough English curriculum. Still, they were actually fighting against all odds. The hope, eagerness, and commitment of teachers, children, and even parents for education were really inspiring. This was the hunger I never saw in Delhi. I was amazed that I knew so little about our country and I decided to bring a change,” Sujata added. 

As soon as Sujata came back to Delhi, she decided to start the organization, 17000ft Foundation. For a year and a half, she extensively researched the workings of an NGO since she was new to this field. After researching, Sujata realized that it wasn’t just the issue of education, but also of living conditions which eventually resulted in migration. 

Children reading books at The Next Chapter library.

Sujata with her organization was more focused on thriving the village back. So what could we do to ensure that people are motivated to stay here, live here, and earn here? We decided to improve the schooling conditions of government schools. We started providing more training and more resources so that parents and teachers consider them equal with any other private school,” she said. 

Finding government schools was a really daunting task. Since there is no GPS facility in the small town of Leh, Sujata along with her team had to walk miles and identify all the schools. Eventually, 1,000 schools of Ladakh were reviewed out of which 100 were selected. Later, a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed with the government and the team started with the training programs. 

“With over eight years dedicated to this organization, we’ve impacted the lived of around 38,000 children, with 1,000 teachers trained, and more than 900 schools of Leh and Kargil evolved. We have also recently started DigiLabs with a vision of digitalization schools by providing e-materials and tablets through solar electricity,” said Sujata with a sense of pride. 

DigiLabs

This kind of DigiLabs is nowhere else in the world. The Ministry of Human Resource and Development (MHRD) is also in touch with them to replicate this model in other remote areas of Himachal, Uttrakhand, and the north-east. Sujata Sahu has also been awarded the prestigious Nari Shakti Puraskar 2015 by The Hon’ble President of India. She has also been awarded NITI Ayog’s Women Transforming India Award 2019. 

Sujata Sahu awarded with Nari Shakti Award by the President in 2015.

Talking about one of the projects, Voluntourist, Sujata said that whenever someone visits Ladakh, he/she only talks about tourism and trekking. What people don’t know is that tourism covers only 10 percent of Ladakh. The rest 90 percent are remote and isolated villages with no communication for over six months. 

 Sujata expressed, “I want people to know more about Ladakh. Our program connects committed adventure travelers who can be counted upon to go to these off-the-track villages, contribute meaningfully, and experience the real Ladakh. Be a Voluntourist and help Ladakh.”

Voluntourists

Sujata also added that we’ve also started with the COVID-19 support fund for Ladakh. Since these communities are isolated, they have very little knowledge of health and hygiene and are ill-equipped to detect and prevent it. Our aim to reach every remote village to generate awareness about the pandemic and provide them with sanitizers and masks. 

“There is an urgent need to protect these highly vulnerable communities and children to avoid a resurgence of the Covid-19 crisis in villages least equipped to combat it,” Sujata expressed. 

Being highly passionate about what she does, Sujata said, “I started with I, alone. I had no team initially. But, if you stick to your mission, then people will join and support you. Get up and start with your passion. Don’t just sit and wait for things to happen.”

The future plans of the 17000ft Foundation remain to extend their programs to other remote areas of the countries where similar problems are faced. For now, the team is focused on raising funds for the COVID-19 pandemic to help and support Ladakh

If you want to contribute go to the link: https://www.impactguru.com/fundraiser/help-17000-ft-foundation-2

If you want to be Voluntourist go to the link: http://17000ft.org/programs/voluntourism17000ft/

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Komal Joshi

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