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This Retired Economist Moved From Mumbai To Dehradun And Is Providing Quality Education To The Poor

From providing quality schooling to enabling students to access world class facilities, PYDS is leaving no stone unturned in bridging the education gap. Providing grants, scholarships and extending help during the complex college admission process, PYDS is there at every step to help the rural community. 

Neeraj Dangwal’s life took a 360-degree-turn 14 years ago when he joined a small project that focused on empowering rural youth through mentoring and education to get prepared for a professional career. He was one of the first four students who believed in the idea of change. Coming from a Hindi medium school, Dangwal didn’t have high hopes from his career and he thought he would see the same fate as many people of his age who spend their life without realising their potential.

PYDS provides quality education to those who can't afford it.
PYDS provides quality education to those who can’t afford it.

The initiative gave him a scholarship, got him admitted in a better school, improved his English and gave him the confidence he never had. Today, Dangwal holds an important position in the small initiative which has now grown into a bigger organization called Purkal Youth Development Society that reaches out to 35 villages with a population of more than 15,000.

You can sense the confidence in him as he talks fluently in English about the amazing work Purkal Society is doing. “I would have been doing any odd job like most of my peers. I now realise how that small project has changed my life,” he says.

Dangwal’s story of change is just one example out of hundreds of lives that have been changed by Purkal Youth Development Society (PYDS). Located in a small village along the foothills of the Himalayas, this registered society focuses on children with great academic potential from economically poor communities and provides them every kind of help needed to achieve their dreams.

The Start

When G.K. Swamy, an economist, retired from his job at the age of 60, he wanted to spend the rest of his life in a peaceful environment, which brought him to Dehradun from Mumbai.

“We began our new life in a very interesting manner. We decided we’d not have a phone, a car or anything beyond the essentials. We would also not employ any servants and would do with as little as possible. But now we do have a lot more than we ever envisaged and have been supported in our vision beyond words,” says Swamy.

His desire to improve the education quality in the region and provide better opportunities to the economically weaker section of the society made him start a small initiative with four students. He started by teaching these students with his wife’s help.

PYDS's focus is on improving education quality for young minds, specially girls.
PYDS’s focus is on improving education quality for young minds, specially girls.

Gradually, a few students became many and soon his house did not have enough space to fit in so many students. In 2008, Swamy’s small initiative was finally registered as an organization and became a formal school for primary education. Today, after 14 years, the school is affiliated to the CBSE for classes up to 12.

What do they do?

PYDS aims at assisting the lesser advantaged to improve the circumstances of their lives. By empowering youth and women, they want reach out to the poorest of poor and enable them to get jobs that are as good as those available to mainstream privileged society, and not just odd jobs that somehow provide them a meagre livelihood.

Our focus is on helping students, especially girls from socially and economically poor backgrounds, so that they get equal opportunity to get a good education and live a better life,” says Dangwal. Their Yuva Shakti Programme, identifies the deserving and bright students and assists them.

The school not only provides a good education but also makes sure that the students engage in extra-curricular activities. Students are divided into 10 groups as per their interests. Interesting courses like bakery, pottery, theatre, etc. are also offered which makes the school unique. From uniforms to books, medical services and four meals a day – everything is offered for free!

A regular session on current affairs keeps the students up to date with latest happenings.
A regular session on current affairs keeps the students up to date with latest happenings.

For those who can’t attend the school due to lack of transport facilities, PYDS has provided two buses and one mini van that picks up and drops students from the remotest areas. To top this, students are also taken for adventure trips for better exposure.

Apart from this, sports and health hold an important position in this school. Regular Yoga classes are organized for students along with various outdoor games like basketball, trekking, mountaineering, etc.

“Our students won a Gold certificate from Tony Blair Foundation’s Faith to Face programme which conducts e-interactions through skype amongst children across various countries on topics of social and current relevance. This is the level of exposure that we wish our children to experience and have access to,” Dangwal says.

After completion of schooling, PYDS also assists these students to opt for higher education and university courses. The team provides help through grants, filling the forms, scholarships, etc. to help them pursue a course that would enable them to apply for a higher paying job and secure a better future.

“A girl from a very poor family who could not even read and write properly is today pursuing her higher education in U.S. This is the level of training and push we give to our students,” says Dangwal.

The challenges

The biggest challenge was sustainability of our programmes. Lack of funds, unawareness among villagers and all such small reasons became an obstacle,” says Dangwal. Today, the programme completely runs on donations and sponsorship for the children.

Apart from education, PYDS also focuses on sports and extra curricular activties.
Apart from education, PYDS also focuses on sports and extra curricular activities.

Another challenge came while bringing the students to the school. They lived in various locations and it was difficult to convince them to attend the school on a regular basis. “Also, child marriage in some cases was a problem. Though the situation is improving, it was an issue in the earlier stages,” says Dangwal.

The impact

PYDS has a campus that covers 10 kms of area. The team of 55 has engaged over 15,000 students so far. Gradually the situation is improving in these villages. “The biggest impact can be seen in the attitude of parents. They have started taking education seriously. They have also agreed to the holistic education model and extra-curricular activities for their children,” says Dangwal.

A large number of students have started going to better schools and applying for higher education due to PYDS’ intervention. The village now sees a larger number of people opting for professional careers. Also, PYDS has played an important role in sensitizing the people.

The students are also more concerned about the environment now, as PYDS has engaged the students and their families in various cleanliness, health and hygiene campaigns. Some students have formed a group called “waste warriors” which collects waste every Wednesday, segregates it and then sends it to the municipality.

Thanks to PYDS, many students have got a decent college for higher studies.
Thanks to PYDS, many students have gone to a decent college for higher studies.

The Future

PYDS now wants to replicate this model to other communities and cities and engage more students in their initiatives. Opening a hostel facility is also in their plan.

“I was a student of PYDS’s first batch. And, I have seen the change in me. They assisted me in going to a better school, gave me scholarships and other assistance. It is because of PYDS’ support only that I manged to finish my graduation and now I hold an important position here,” says Dangwal.

Education, being the most important thing that builds a strong base for a child, should not be ignored. And PYDS, through its various amazing programmes, is helping the poorest of poor to follow their dreams and giving them a chance to come to par with the mainstream children.

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