Empowering girls around world with an Indian scholarship

The 26-year-old was jubilant at the chance. "It was surreal for me and I got very emotional. After settling down, I realised how lucky I was," said Flora, who is currently doing her internship here with a public relations firm.

Like many other girls from India and across the world, Flora is part of the Gifted Girl Genius Scholarship (GGGS) programme of the Rai Foundation, which provides free education to promising young women.

The programme was started by the Rai Foundation in 2007 at their campus in Behror, a small town in Rajasthan some 150 km from state capital Jaipur.
"It is a social initiative which we are doing on a very large scale. We want to help the underprivileged girls in India and around the world," Rinchen Dolma, the campus head, told IANS.

Through active partnerships with NGOs, embassies, corporate groups and individuals, the Rai foundation sends nomination and invitation letters, urging them to select students who deserve a scholarship, Dolma said.

"We have students from Sri Lanka, Kenya, China, Nepal, Botswana and Zimbabwe among others who have been selected on their merit. We are not focussing on any particular country or region; we just want underprivileged girls to progress," she added.
Flora told IANS: "I am very good in studies and this is the reason I'm here. I love studying and I know that is the only way ahead for me."

According to her, higher education back home was very expensive compared to India and the scholarship was a godsend. The scholarship includes free tuition, board and lodging, study books and material and transportation for educational trips.

The money spent on each student was not disclosed by the foundation though every scholarship holder gets a mediclaim worth Rs.100,000 per annum.
The students can choose graduation or post-graduation courses in the fields of media, journalism, management, fashion, interior designing, hotel and tourism.
According to their website, many of their alumni are employed as HR managers, stewards, anchors and travel agents.

Prior to 2007, the trust used to give five or six scholarships every year. But since 2007 the programme has been growing rapidly.
In 2007 the number of girls who were awarded the scholarships were 300. The number increased by 50 in 2008 and further rose to 400 in 2009 and reached 450 in 2010.
"Around 1,500 girls have been admitted under GGGS from 15 countries, of whom 400 have completed their masters and bachelors degrees and many of them are employed," said Dolma.

But for some students like Zainab from Ghana, being in a new land is a cultural shock.
"I have been here for the last couple of months and the food here is very hot. I'm just not able to digest all that stuff," Zainab, a student of mass communication, said over phone from Rajasthan.
"Although the people here are very friendly, I'm still trying to adjust to the culture here," said the 21-year-old.

There are others who are unhappy with the strict rules and the mode of teaching apart from the food. "Some of the lectures are conducted in Hindi, which I obviously cannot understand," said a student from Kenya who did not wish to be named.
"We are not allowed to go out even on weekends. We are provided with a window of just two hours on any one day of the weekend and that too after taking prior permission. They are too strict here," she added.

Dolma, however, said the teachers had to switch to Hindi at times to cater to the needs of the Indian students as well. She said the campus has around 10 percent of foreign students whereas a majority of them are Hindi-speaking Indians.
"We try our best to conduct the classes in English, but it's not possible all the time. Sometimes Hindi is necessary for the 90 percent of the students," she said.
"Still, we hold extra classes and provide reference material in English to help such students," she added.

The Rai Foundation runs a number of institutions and initiatives for social uplift. Some of its other philanthropic activities are the Child Care Rai Foundation in Behror and the Rai Sewa Education Foundation in Ahmedabad.
The foundation also runs institutes like the Rai Business School in New Delhi and College of Media and Communication and School of Fashion Technology in Behror.

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