In February 2020, two 17-year-olds — Disha Panda and Haneen Farid — decided to kick-start an initiative called Project Arambha to fight gender inequality, particularly in higher education. Project Arambha provides financial support and career guidance to girls aged between 16 and 22 years. In less than a year, the project has raised close to Rs 15 lakh to fund the education of 44 young girls in Bengaluru.
Arambha means ‘beginning’ in Kannada. For many girls, the project truly was just that — a new beginning. “During Covid, our financial troubles were getting worse. My sisters and I were planning to discontinue our studies,” says Anitha P, a 20-year-old beneficiary of the project and a final-year degree student at a college in Bengaluru.
It was at this time that Project Arambha approached the girls through a local non-profit and offered to fund their degrees. “We could not believe that we would be able to complete our education. Project Arambha’s scholarships give girls the gift of education and the power to fulfill their dreams,” she adds.
In addition to financial support, the project also organises webinars on resumé writing, interview skills, public speaking and career counselling. “The online career guidance sessions not only gave me clarity on my aim in life, but also helped me understand how to achieve my ambitions,” says Seemitha P, a II PUC student who aspires to become an IPS officer. “The knowledge and direction I received from the seminars were valuable; it set me up on the right path to my goals,” she said.
Mentorship is key
Good mentorship is what Disha and Haneen credit for their own success as well. The students work closely with the UN-accredited non-profit 1 Million for 1 Billion (1M1B) as part of the organisation’s Future Leaders programme.
“We received consistent guidance from 1M1B. They helped us right from the start to direct and maximise our impact. Through the collaboration, we have set up a platform, not just to raise funds and sustain our project, but even to be involved in global advocacy for gender equality,” says Haneen. The young founders will soon present their work and learnings at 1M1B’s Impact Summit to be held at the UN Headquarters in New York later this year.
Working during Covid-19 and the lockdown actually presented a few advantages. “While it was initially difficult to connect with the students online, over time, we overcame this obstacle. Webinars and virtual classes actually gave us a lot of flexibility in our schedules and allowed us to personalise the sessions according to the needs of each student,” Haneen adds.
For the duo, the impact of their work makes all the challenges worth it. “However bad the year has been for a lot of people and for us, Project Arambha allowed me to add value to the world. It taught me that when we put our hearts and minds to something, we can do anything,” mused Disha.