My Story

My Story : Priyanka Dey.


I had always wanted to make a difference, but I just didn’t know how to take the first steps. This is why, when I saw a LEAD Orientation at my college, I was so inspired to join. I saw the pictures of the LEADers having fun and making a difference, and I thought, if they can do it, why can’t I? I also saw how many of the young students were meeting such inspirational and iconic role models, and I wanted that chance as well.
When I first joined LEAD, I knew I wanted to make a difference, but didn’t know exactly what to do. So first, I realized I had to establish what the need was. I looked to other LEAD projects for inspiration, and thought about all the possible people in the world who could use help.
Then, one day, I was crossing the street in Varanasi, and a feeling came over me that this area, one particular slum, was the area I wanted to contribute to. I saw the bad conditions of the children, siting around playing cards and chewing paan rather than in school, and saw how dire the living conditions were. But how could I help them?
I decided to conduct a survey of the area to figure out what their needs were. I made a team of friends and fellow LEADers, and went door-to-door in the slum area, gathering information about the people in the slum, including their professions, how many children there were and if they were in school, and what problems they faced in their lives. From this, I realized that many of the children were not regularly attending classes and did not have any interest, and the parents did not encourage them to learn. For this reason, I decided to create an education project for the approx. 80 children in the slum community. While many of the students agreed to attend the program, they did not seem enthusiastic, and this motivated me to help awaken their interest in education, which is where the name of my project came from, “Awakening Education”.
At first, I thought to hold my program in the park behind the slum. However, due to personal safety concerns, I realized this was not a good idea. After explaining the issue, one community member agreed to arrange a room for me and my team to teach in, but when he did not follow through, we were left again with no space. But then the family of several of the prospective students offered their roof as a teaching space. I took this as a good sign; someone so poor was being so generous as to let me, a stranger, use their home for my project.
My team and I started teaching each weekday evening from 4:30 to 6, plus we would do a fun activity with the children on Sundays, such as chowing a movie on our laptops, games, or a painting competition we once organized. But after a few months, we realized we needed a real formal space to teach in. Several of us went to speak to government schools, and while they all appreciated our work, the firts two schools refused. After much deliberation, the third school agreed to let us run their program in the school, giving us the keys to the government school. This was a huge moment of pride.
After months of doing my “Awakening Education” project, I was accepted into LEAD Prayana and got the chance to travel around Karnataka with 130 other amazing LEADers. I met amazing role models like I had seen in the orientation, and it was even better than I imagined. A quote from organic farmer Narayan Reddy sir, “simple living, high thinking”, was incredibly inspiring for me. IAS officer Mannivannan displayed such amazing speaking skills and showed me someone doing amazing work for his country, standing up to corruption, with little recognition. And Malathi Holla mam, the acclaimed para-athlete, was so motivational in sharing how passion and devotion can lead us to reaching all our dreams.

At the end of Prayana was Yuva Summit, and it was at this award ceremony that I won a Best LEADer Award 2016. I was shocked. My name was the last of the seven winners to be called, and after hearing the caliber of the other projects, I never imagined I would win. When my na

me was called, the last LEAD award of the night, it was such a great moment and I became overwhelmed with emotion, accepting my award from such great dignitaries on stage.

When I returned to Varanasi, I found myself surrounded by support. Not only were my parents and family so proud that I can been recognized so greatly at such an early age, but the principal of my college asked to speak to me. I had never met her before, and I felt very proud. My friends had not known I was on Prayana and thought I was at home, so when I came back and had met the role models and won an award, they were so surprised!
In March 2016, I got the chance to be a part of the “Recognizing the Unrecognized Women” on International Women’s Day. I organized an event for the mothers of the students in my project, and appreciated all the work they do to support their children. I was so glad to be able to appreciate these women who had allowed their children to become educated. 
I am now motivated to share my story with others, and inspire others to join LEAD. LEAD has helped me to develop my personality, and I hope others take this opportunity as well.
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