POOJA MISHRA: EDUCATOR AT THE GRASSROOTS
How wonderful it is to harbour dreams and have a set graph to achieve those. One of the most ideal career timeline goes something like this – complete education in school and college, get a prestigious MBA degree and then bag a fancy high paying corporate job.
But some timelines also have a sudden turn in an unexpected territory to pursue what’s been brewing in the heart for long but never really thought of executing it.
Pooja Mishra did something of that sort. On the day of placements at her MBA college, she decided not to sit for any of the interviews and instead went back to her roots to give something back to the children who might otherwise never have the opportunities she was lucky to have.
I call her ‘educator at the grassroots’ because she chose not to work in a corporate in an urban jungle or pay taxes to another nation, but instead work at the grassroots level where she can create innumerable like her who can make a difference to the development of their own country.
Born and raised in Lucknow as the eldest of 3 sisters, if it wasn’t for the support of her parents who insisted on good education, she might have had a very different life in their village Purasi near Raebareli (UP).
“My father’s siblings and relatives were of the mentality that there was no need to spend time and resources on educating 3 girls in a city. So it was better for us to move to our village to take care of our ancestral property. Eventually getting all of us married was our only fate according to them.”
But not only did Pooja live and completed her school and engineering in Lucknow, she even moved out of her home town for work and started her family too.
“After graduating in engineering, I moved to Bangalore to work with Infosys. Later I moved to the US and lived there for 7 years. I gave birth to my son there.”
Thanks to a supportive husband, Pooja was able to move to India to pursue MBA along with her son.
“I joined IIM Calcutta and stayed in the hostel with my 2 year old son. While I attended my MBA classes, he went to school. It was difficult but I managed with the help of the IIM staff and batchmates.”
Despite the prospect of a well-paying job from IIM placements, there was something else that Pooja yearned for.
“The thought of my cousins in my native village who never got the exposure or opportunity that I got, crossed my mind. They had kids at a very young age.”
“While there is nothing wrong with starting a family at a young age but I believe after food and shelter, it is education which is the most important. Once that is there, you can be in control of your own decisions.”
“And so, at a time when my batchmates were moving to Singapore, US and London for fancy jobs, I was moving to my village.”
“I settled in Lucknow with my family and started Gurukul in 2012 in Purasi, 80 kms away.”
“Initially I didn’t receive a good response. People didn’t want to pay even a nominal monthly fee of Rs 50. There were also a lot of caste and gender issues. Parents didn’t want their children to mix with other castes and wanted boys and girls to sit separately.”
“More number of girls were enrolled since it was free, while the boys were sent to ‘better’ schools. They didn’t want to send their sons to a school supposedly for poor kids.”
Gurukul was on the verge of being permanently closed but the universe indeed was conspiring to make things happen for Pooja and the children who deserved to learn.
“After a year, I was planning to shut down due to lack of funding but during summer holidays children asked me about school re-opening and I didn’t have the heart to tell them, that it might never. That’s when I reached out to my batchmates at IIM and instantly received a funding for 153 students. And now not only my batchmates but more people who they spread the word to have been donating for the school.”
As they say, the comeback is always stronger than the setback! What started with just 23 children is now an almost 900 student strong school with robust extra-curricular activities. Gurukul is now a senior secondary school affiliated to the CBSE board.
“It does occur to me often during difficult times that I could have prospered with a high paying job but then this is what I set my mind to, and I am happy with the way things are progressing.”
Pooja actively supports Gurukul in the capacity of a Founder and has plans to open more branches of Gurukul Public School in the adjoining districts of Raebareli and may be UP and Bihar in the near future. The aim is to make world-class education accessible to all free of cost irrespective of background.
If you wish to donate for the cause, you can do so through Give India.