After her 9-year-old brother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, Divaa Uthkarsha (15) started Project Surya to support underprivileged children with the same condition.
Life was pretty normal for Divaa, her brother Surya, and their parents. Both the children were attending school from home due to COVID restrictions. However, everything changed in 2020 when Surya, who was nine years old at the time, was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes.
Since their parents were doctors, he had access to the best healthcare and medicines. Yet, the diagnosis came as a shock, especially to Divaa, who was only 12 years old then.
“I really didn’t know what Type 1 diabetes was at that time. It took about two to three months to get used to the situation. Since we were at home at the time, my parents were able to monitor him. He slowly got the knack of the insulin injections and the lifestyle changes,” says 15- year-old Divaa Uthkarsha, a student of Class 10 at National Public School, Rajajinagar, Bengaluru.
She says that despite having access to the best resources, they faced several challenges.
“There is a stigma surrounding diabetes. Previously, I used to think that it only affected adults. Other schoolchildren may not be well-informed and could treat a child with diabetes differently. Children with diabetes already have to cope with a lot of changes, such as exercise, diet, medication, glucose monitoring, etc. In fact, it requires a complete lifestyle change,” she adds.
This got her thinking about how it must be for people in a similar situation without resources and awareness.
So in 2021, when Divaa joined the Future Leaders Program by 1M1B (One Million for One Billion), she knew what cause she would champion. She initiated Project Surya to support underprivileged children in Karnataka, who are living with Type 1 diabetes, aiming to improve their quality of life.
Raising awareness, transforming lives
Started in June 2021, Project Surya is a social initiative to create awareness and provide assistance to children living with Type 1 diabetes.
As per an ICMR report released in 2022, India has nearly 95,600 cases of Type 1 diabetes below 14 years of age, and 15,900 cases are diagnosed each year in this age group.
The report states, “Individuals with Type 1 diabetes need support to survive, using insulin and other therapies, and to live their entire life without stigma, restrictions, or disabling complications due to their illness. In India, there exists considerable variability in the quality of diabetes care, which depends upon various factors such as accessibility to services, affordability of drugs, attitude and perceptions of care providers, lack of specialists and diabetes educators, standardised laboratories and treatment guidelines.”
And it is this gap in quality of care, along with mental health support, that Divaa seeks to provide for underprivileged children through her project.
“We have a three-pronged action plan: awareness, advocacy and funding. We are conducting awareness programs to educate adolescents about how to manage diabetes effectively. We have reached out to over 100 families of diabetic children in Karnataka. Endocrinologists, dieticians and other doctors conduct these sessions,” she says, adding that they also conduct counselling sessions as Type 1 diabetes affects one’s mental health too.
Project Surya raises funds through crowdfunding and fundraising events to sponsor insulin and diabetes management resources like glucose strips, syringes etc. Divaa says the project has reached out to and impacted over 15,000 people and has donated more than 500 insulin syringes to poor diabetic children.
A parent who attended an awareness session said that they learned different ways to manage their son’s Type 1 diabetes. “It was an in-depth awareness session. We learned about hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which we were not aware of before. We also learned about dietary changes and physical exercises to help manage my son’s Type 1 diabetes better,” they said.
For this project, Divaa has been felicitated with the Diana Award 2023, which is an accolade given out in memory of Princess Diana to a young person aged 9–25 years for their social action or humanitarian work.
The teenager credits her 1M1B mentors for the same.
“I conceptualised my project at the 1M1B Future Leaders programs and got outstanding mentorship for execution. Also, I’m thankful to my parents who have continuously supported me in my efforts. I want to take this initiative to the national level and help underprivileged kids suffering from diabetes across the country. I will also be talking about my project at the 1M1B youth summit at the United Nations headquarters in New York this November,” she adds.
Manav Subodh, founder and chief mentor of 1M1B, says that he saw how much Divaa cared about healthcare.
“When we meet a student first, we converse with them to see which area they would like to work in. With Divaa, we saw that she was deeply disturbed by diabetes due to her personal experience. So we motivated her to create a program to create awareness about diabetes in underserved areas in Karnataka, and teach people how to manage life with diabetes,” he says.
He continues, “We want to activate and empower young people like Divaa and teach them how to create impact. Many students want to create social change but are unaware of how to do so.”
Divaa says Project Surya is the goal of her life now. She hopes that the government bans GST on insulin so that it becomes affordable to all. “Our vision is a world where juvenile diabetics are free of suffering and accessing insulin is easy.”
Edited by Pranita Bhat