One of the great things about the work I get to do with Ashoka is that I am surrounded by inspirational stories. It is part of my project to record these stories, so that they can be used as part of our campaign, reaching out to young people and empowering them to be changemakers. Below is a bit about my latest encounter with a young changemaker.
A Changemaking Rebellion
No red leather jacket, no wild tattoos, and no Porsche 550 spider. She may not identify with the term, but Pavithra, despite being a world apart from the James Dean archetype, is a rebel. Only this rebel is not without a cause; she rebels for the right to choose her own life-style, for the rights of Indian women to have careers, and for the rights of children to learn and have fun. This is no aimless teen angst, but in fact a very carefully calculated and dedicated resistance to injustice. Perhaps this spark to resist and an unwillingness to conform, along with her professional achievements, are why Pavithra has earned the nick-name amongst her colleagues of “Rock Star.”
At only twenty years old, Pavrithra manages a successful program for a major non-profit. She works for Dream a Dream, an organization based in Bangalore dedicated to teaching life-skills to children. She runs a program called Learn IT, tapping into a rich pool of volunteers to teach IT skills to children. Despite being in charge of a program that teaches IT to children, Pavithra has no background in IT. Bangalore is a city with perhaps more young qualified techies than any place in the World, yet it is Pavithra, a commerce student, that runs Learn IT. It therefore must be her ambition and charisma that have been the key to her success.
In addition to working full-time, Pavithra is a college student, going straight from work to evening classes. Her early morning departures and late evening homecomings are a source of conflict with her parents. Most any mother or father would fret about their teenage daughter returning home after eleven on a regular basis. In addition to what other suspicions they might have about her whereabouts, it is commonly agreed upon that it isn’t safe for young women to travel alone in Bangalore at such late hours. Pavithra, although fully aware that there is an element of truth to this, refuses to allow fear to dictate her actions. Staying out late is just one of the many rules that Pavrithra is willing to break in the name of changemaking.
When Pavithra was sixteen years old, she began volunteering with Dream a Dream. Although Pavithra then enjoyed the company of children, she says that her primary motive for starting work with Dream a Dream was to have an escape from a turbulent home life. During a three month break from school, Pavithra needed to get away from the domestic arguments that were taking place. That was when she met Vishal Tareja, the founder of Dream a Dream. Vishal quickly became a significant role model in Pavithra’s life, helping guide her from being a teenage girl looking for a distraction to a bona fide changemaker.
Pavithra says that the driving force behind her desire to help children and youth is the fact that she understands their struggle. Pavithra’s challenge didn’t end with her daily escape to Dream a Dream. Her parents, family, and community have not relented the pressure on her to lead a more traditional life-style. “Everyday there is an argument,” says Pavithra. Some days it may be the late hours her family is unhappy with, others it might be the idea of having their daughter work (something that strongly goes against tradition). Regardless, Pavithra wants to help other young people lead the life of their desires despite the obstacles that are in the way. She truly wants to help people dream a dream. Someday she would like to expand on this philosophy and extend the scope of her work to youth, not just children. She already has name for her future venture, Day to Dream. It is this profound sense of empathy that has enabled Pavithra to fight her way to becoming a changemaker.
Pavithra does not live life on the path of least resistance. For some people it may be easier to allow the World to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do. Some people might do what they want and simply lie to those people with other expectations. Pavithra faces oppression head-on, refusing to change who she is, and not being forced in any direction other than that of her own moral compass. She admits it hasn’t been easy. At the end of each long day, Pavithra takes a moment to reflect. She takes cognizance of the daily confrontations that often characterize her life. She does this to remind herself that the turmoil created with loved ones is for a greater purpose, and not meant at a personal level. Pavithra knows that her choice to be a changemaker is the source of much tension amongst her family, but she also has an uncanny ability to not internalize that tension.
Slowly but surely, Pavithra is not just creating change in the lives of the children she works with, but in her life and in the lives of her friends and family as well. By way of example, Pavithra is contributing to a significant societal shift that will take place one family at time. As young people refuse to be conformed by their communities’ expectations, families around the World will have to redefine what it means to successfully raise a child. Youth like Pavithra are already making it clear that it will no longer be acceptable that a family’s expectations of their daughter involves marrying young, being a homemaker, and leading a comfortable life of mediocrity. Pavithra’s father has noticed that his daughter not only works like boy, but also articulates like one. Taking notice that Pavithra has taken the role of the son he never had, he is, in his own way, starting to accept that Pavithra breaks rules and redefines roles. Pavithra will continue to live her life as an example of how to resist the forces that push people to conformity. By taking a stance in her own life, Pavithra is a pillar of changemaking for the entire community.