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Avanti Fellows: Journey so far, and beyond!

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By Vatsul Anand,

Just a few days back, JEE results were out. I was talking with our first batch of graduating fellows and discussing their results, which brought back a lot of memories from the past two years. 

We have been working hard all this time with these kids and this was the time when we could see the results of our labor. So I thought, there couldn't be a happier time than this to write this article. There are some moments that are just a matter of chance but expose your perspective of life to a completely new and unexplored dimension. It happened to me two years ago. It was back in 2011, Avanti had started its operations in Delhi with their first set of fellows. Though at that time there were several volunteering opportunities with NSS in the campus, and I appreciated them but still I could always find some excuse to not be a part of them. I was more inclined towards other activities; and most of my time was devoted to inter hostel competitions and stuff, being in Kumaon that came naturally to me. So, I never thought of myself taking up some social cause and this whole idea for me was about completing NSS hours above anything else. But one fine morning, I just happened to tag along with a few friends to attend Avanti’s orientation session at their then coaching partners at Kalu Sarai. They were recruiting for their student team and this idea of ‘mentoring a kid’ sounded so appealing to me that I instantly signed up for it. That was the start of my journey with Avanti, and since then there has been no looking back.

Avanti Fellows is an organization that aims to provide high quality science and maths education to economically deprived students through its Learning Centres and partner institutes, which is assisted by student mentoring. It was founded by two alumni of IIT Bombay and has now branched out with student chapters in five IITs and other colleges. Avanti’s IIT Delhi Chapter started with a bunch of fellows and a small focused team, which has expanded largely since then, both in terms of fellows reached, and the size of the student team.

At Avanti, we have a Fellow Search team that looks for academically bright high school kids from low-income families who become our fellows. They reach out to schools across Delhi, organize a screening test and which is then followed by personal assessment of these kids and their families’ economic status. After going through such rigorous multi-level selection procedure, these high school kids are finally selected for Avanti’s fellowship.

A majority of these kids go to Avanti’s Learning Centre and a few go to our partner institute Vidya Mandir classes. Our Learning centers have no trained teachers and very little conventional lecturing.  In their place, we focus on teaching students how to learn from books and their peers – resources that are more abundant, accessible and consistent in quality. These kids have a huge potential and display exceptional academic records but still suffer a major disadvantage, being from under-privileged sections of the society. Apart from the general problems that a typical high school student preparing for entrances face, there are many other difficulties that they have to go through due to lack of resources, exposure and financial constraints.

This is where the role of the Mentorship team starts; the student mentors work with these kids very closely, helping them through every aspect of their academic and personal life. They participate in regular discussions with these kids on their performance, guide them through their course of study, conduct doubt-solving sessions, provide them with books, help them prepare for tests and deal with exam anxiety, and talk to them about life in general. Initially it begins as a formal relationship but as we, the mentors start visiting their homes and interacting with them more, they start treating us as their elder brother/sister.

Its hard to express the feeling of joy and satisfaction one gets in helping these kids out as you realize they have so much potential and a bit of effort from our sides can help them achieve wonders! Once you become a mentor you start attaching yourself to the fellow’s progress. It starts with you developing a sense of care towards him, you feel proud when he scores good marks in an exam and he tells you about it. You observe the change that you helped bring about. And that makes you believe that by your little efforts you’re able to bring a positive change and that motivates you further in this direction. You feel a sense of responsibility and immense contentment when you realize the amount of trust these kids and their families put into you.

I’ve been a mentor to one such kid for the past two years, and personally it has been a wonderful experience. There had been times when I felt overburdened with my academics and other commitments in college but it could never undermine my commitment towards my fellow, this is because even after a week’s exhaustive schedule when I would visit my fellow, the response that I would receive was beyond any measure. My fellow, Pratik and his family would treat with me so much love and affection with a belief that I could change their family’s future. That amount of faith they had in me, and if it ever required any extra effort to keep this faith intact, it was worth it.

But the journey has not been a cakewalk ever since, the IIT Delhi chapter faced a great moment of crisis towards the end of 2011 – when our then coaching partner, Brilliant Tutorials, shut down operations in Delhi. To deal with the situation, Shubham - who was the team head then, decided to take the onus of teaching all the fellows, into our i.e. the students’ own hands until we could find another coaching partner. It took a while – almost three months, to get all the fellows enrolled with a new coaching partner, Vidya Mandir Classes. Meanwhile, the doubt solving sessions turned into full-fledged classes. The whole team started to work together disregarding their separate roles – all focused to keep the momentum going.

During that time I learnt that a good team effort could take us through any situation! Over the years I’ve made some good friends here; have come to know different people and have learnt a lot from each one of them. Its one of the few organizations in IIT Delhi where I’ve found people who work because they believe in what they do and not for any other incentives.

Here at Avanti, I also get to work with some of the finest people, who have a vast amount of knowledge and experience, along with a sincere drive to work for the cause, which itself is inspiring. Many of them, who are IIT alumnus and are working full time with Avanti, have dedicated themselves to its cause, even at the cost of leaving highly paid conventional jobs that they had. This fact in itself motivates one to rethink one’s priorities in life and makes one see what is really important and meaningful.

As you read this, Avanti Fellows is expanding and evolving. This year we started with 5 new Learning Centre across India including one in Delhi. We are constantly trying to reach out to more such kids with huge potential but are weighed down by financial barriers. As we try to help these kids we always require volunteers along. Volunteers are the backbone of our operations. Here is an opportunity for you to contribute and bring about a change in lives of many deserving students and playing your part to bridge the education divide in our country. Working for a social cause requires time, effort and a relentless enthusiasm that never fails. But it does have its moments. It was thus a moment of great pride when we checked this year’s JEE Advanced results to find out that 20 of our fellows had cleared it! Not only does this opportunity offer you a work environment that is brilliant, it offers you to see a positive societal progress under your efforts.Hope to see you all contributing in whatever way you can.