University Scholarships, a trampoline for change


Syamala Vadthy is 21 years old and she likes to read.  Mahadevi Boya, 19 years old, prefers to sing and to practice sports. The first one just graduated as a civil engineer at the Technological University of Jawaharlal Nehru in Anantapur.  The second one has finished her midterms and finals from her second course at the Medical School from the government.  They have in common more than it seems at first glance.  They are both dalits and university students in rural India.  They represent a minority that little by little is growing. 

Both of them share the desire that their future improves present conditions for their parents. "For me, it's important to study, because although my parents are laborers, I know there are more opportunities out there now and I don't have to follow their path" says Mahadevi.  To reach the top of the educational pyramid gives them the opportunity to jump from jobs in the fields, to executive and professional jobs. In this context, an annual report about education 2013 - 2014 from the Human Resources and Development Indian Ministry highlights the importance of university education.  "As a catalyst to develop a modern economy, a just society and and persuasive politics.  In other words, University contributes to facilitate social mobility.

For this, India has the third biggest university system in the world.  In 1950 there were 20 universities, today, there are more than 677 universities and 37.204 colleges to serve 20 millions of students, according to the Higher Education Department from the Indian Government.

From Nalakadoddi, a village in the Kurnool district, Mahadevi would have to be in the bus for three hours each day to get to the University.  This is why she lives in a student's residence in Anantapur.  "I studied until seventh grade in my town, and then two internships until I started University.  Vicente Ferrer Foundation started a scholarship program in 2004, that facilitates the step into higher education for young students that obtain the best grades in their class in the public tests in 10th grade (16 years old), giving them 100% economical support in preparation for university:  they go and study high school in private institutes and from there to a university major.  During these years, the foundation covers the registration fees, school materials, board and room, transportation and health assistance until they complete their education.

These scholarships give the boys and girls the opportunity of achieving a higher education and it frees their families from a financial load that in most cases is impossible to provide.  Besides, the scholarships encourage the social integrations of Dalit students, from lower classes and tribal groups, so they can chose their own professional future.

Breaking Stereotypes

After four years of career, now Syamala would like to prepare presentations to work in the Engineering Service of India, a government entity.  "Companies come to the city to recruit us, but I rather work for the government in a job that gives me stability", she explains.

In turn, Mahadevi will do internships for a year after graduating.  "I see that women have problems during labor and they lack good personal hygiene, this is why I would like to specialize in gynecology", she says.  "In my village I am the only girl that studies medicine, so I would like to give my work to a hospital that can offer sanitary assistance to all, independently of their resources", she adds.

"People in my village still thinks that is unnecessary to study if you are a woman"  Mahadevi says; And Syamala adds "In mine, there is a huge difference between a woman that studies and one that doesn't, we are treated different".  Fortunately, they both agree that "the situation is changing". 

"To see more girls my age studying has inspired me.  I am the oldest in my family, and I want to teach the value of effort to my brothers" says Syamala smiling.

"My parents have said that I should chose my husband, so I will marry for love", says Mahadevi; on the other hand, Syamala prefers to leave the decision to her grandparents, whom she respects a lot.  Both faces of one coin:  to be a pioneer doesn't go against tradition.  Both agree that with effort, everything can be achieved.  "When we get jobs, the rest will come” both say showing their thumbs up as a sign of success. 


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Anne Ferrer, who has been working as a social worker in rural parts of Andhra Pradesh, received the Jamnalal Bajaj Award 2015 for her contribution in the field of development and welfare of Women and Children in India.
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