The double-I in the name IIMPACT India is not a typo. The student group on campus collaborates with IIMPACT, a non-governmental organization in India founded by the alumni of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in 2003. Not foreseeing the confusion the name would create later on, the founders of IIMPACT took their school’s name and infused it with their vision of positively influencing India.
IIMPACT aims to transform the families and communities of India by providing primary education to socially and economically disadvantaged girls in rural parts of the country. The organization has created around 950 learning centers, teaching a total of about 30,000 girls in nine Indian states.
Last year, Shayoni Nair ’13, the daughter of the NGO’s marketing director Urvashi Nair, formed the organization’s Wesleyan chapter with her friend, eager to be a part of the movement. Now in its second year, Wesleyan’s IIMPACT India is the only chapter of IIMPACT still running.
This year’s co-leaders—Meha Joshi ’16, Romil Sharma ’16, and Tenzin Choden ’16—all joined the group last year as freshmen with the hope of making positive change in India, a country in which they have all observed social inequality.
Choden, for example, grew up in India and noticed strong inequality based on class.
“I would play in the neighborhood with kids of different backgrounds,” Choden said. “We were all going to schools of different conditions, and I felt very privileged. Most of the time in India, if you don’t have money, you don’t get a good education. The government schools are not as good as the private ones.”
The free public education provided by the Indian government is significantly inferior to the education offered in private schools, reflecting the society’s disparities of opportunity.
“In government schools, the teachers don’t show up to class sometimes, and some of them just read magazines while the kids are running around,” Sharma said. “The free public education does not allow kids to place into the next level of learning.”
Although it recognizes that larger societal problems are at play, IIMPACT India considers education a means by which it can instigate positive change. The group strives to teach citizens how to transform their own country.
“For rural India, education is not just about learning numbers and writing,” Sharma added. “It is about living. The kids learn how to clean themselves, eat properly, and take better care of themselves. You help a society by teaching them to help themselves. We can’t just keep on raising a bunch of money and feed them, but not allow them to lift themselves out of the poverty they are in.”
Because of the poor conditions of public resources, NGOs such as IIMPACT have a huge presence in India. NGOs provide not only better educational facilities for the underprivileged children but also the opportunity for them to set and achieve personal goals.
“The kids in rural India do not have any conception that they can be anything else other than what they are told to be,” Sharma said. “When learning centers come in, they are exposed to ideas that they can be something more than that. Before, they had no idea what they want to be when they grow up. But now, they have ideas and say, ‘I want to be a teacher’ or ‘I want to be a doctor.’ Even though some of these goals might not be plausible, at least they are striving and have a chance to be something they want to be.”
IIMPACT distinguishes itself from other NGOs by focusing on the “girl child” population. In India, it is much more difficult for girls to receive even primary education because of the strictly enforced gender roles.
“In India, your job as a girl is basically to look pretty or find a good husband,” Choden said.
Joshi added that the difference between the level of education for girls and boys is even more apparent in rural areas.
“The girls in rural India are expected to go out with their mothers to help in housework like washing dishes or clothes,” Joshi said. “They don’t have the opportunity to get education compared to the boys, who are not obligated to do the housework. If my parents did not move to the states, it could have been me.”
Last year, IIMPACT India founded a Wesleyan-sponsored learning center in Rajasthan, a state with one of the highest gaps in literacy rate between the genders: 76 percent for males and 44 percent for females. To cover the annual cost of $1800 for sponsoring the learning center, IIMPACT India has been holding numerous fundraisers throughout the year, including late-nights and chai sales.
IIMPACT India currently provides only financial support. However, that will soon be changing. The members have been designing workbooks to supplement the teachers in their learning center in Rajasthan. They are also preparing a WesFest panel to educate the student body about the problem of social mobility in India and other countries.
“We will have three or four professors from different departments to speak about socioeconomic stratification and social mobility for the panel,” Sharma said. “The panel will include different perspectives on the issue, including economic, religious, sociological, and historical perspectives.”
IIMPACT India’s biggest concern this year is that not many of the group’s members attend meetings regularly. Although its ambitions require serious group effort to achieve, the leaders of IIMPACT India encourage students to join the group by making small contributions that will make a big difference.
“We do some workbook-making; we do some arts and crafts,” said Sharma. “It is about working together and making an impact.”