A little help, and dreams come to life
THIS IS the story of students who seemed on the way to living out an unhappy plot charted by destiny. But their love for hard work and a philanthropic effort through the newly-established Yadavindra College of Engineering under Punjabi University at Talwandi Sabo has changed their course, giving them new hope.
Working towards getting professional degrees, they are soon putting behind them the days of suffering, pain and uncertainty. They have reached a premier institution, and it’s not just for any degree, but an engineering degree. Also, they can take pride in the fact that it is not purely on someone’s largesse that they are living. They have received scholarships, which are actually loans for as many as six years to complete their education. Once the students start earning, they can repay the loans, which would never have been possible for their parents to do.
The brainchild of Vice-Chancellor Swarn Singh Boparai, it’s been quoted as an example worth emulating at the All-India Vice Chancellors’ conference.
This 170-strong batch of Class XI students of non-medical stream can put any pessimist to shame: thanks to Punjabi University, higher education in technical stream is now within the reach of rural poor.
These are children whose parents have lived in villages all their lives. This is a dream for them. Ask Rupinder from Sambhalki village, whose eyes well up with tears as she talks about this transition — from a life devoid of hope to a time when she can realistically expect opportunities to open up before her. So limited was her exposure in life that going to a temple used to be her only outing. Her father, working in a factory, would dream a good life for her, but there was not much he could do to fulfil those.
Studying in the village school, Rupinder was moving along from one class to the next, without any clear goal or direction. All this changed when she learnt of the Yadavindra College of Engineering and its unique concept of funding rural students from poor families for studying engineering.
Not very different are the experiences of her classmate Sandeep Kaur of Patiala’s Matorada village. Aware of her good fortune, she wants to meet Maninder Singh Sethi from USA, who has funded her scholarship. “I am sure he must be a very good-hearted person, the way he has come out to help students like me.”
There’s a new lilt in their steps, a new joy on their faces and a new direction in their lives. The children have been sponsored for the fees, which comes to roughly about Rs 4.25 lakh which includes Class XI and XII and four years of B.Tech.
Dr S.S. Boparai believes donors will never be a problem. “When one student starts returning the money, we’ll pass it on to another,” explains Dr Boparai. “This is the beginning of a cycle where the institution will not have to depend on the government for funds.”
This cycle of life has changed the life of Sukhwinder Singh, who is attending classes from a village 20 km from the campus. He too was going through the motions of education in the village school till his teacher told him about the college. His father, a farmer, could not have paid his fees for the engineering course, he says. He has had the opportunity of meeting his scholarship donor, Rup Singh Roopa. Overjoyed and grateful, Sukhwin-der says this stroke of luck has inspired him to work even harder.
For parents, it’s a matter of great pride when they visit the campus. The teachers are helping students overcome language difficulties as they are now studying in English medium, says Sukhwinder.
For girl students, it is not just about getting an education. Most of them have gained a lot in terms of confidence from participating in sports activities and living in hostels. As for the challenges future may put in their way, they are all ready, for these girls are no strangers to hardship.
Dr Boparai believes the step will not only help these students, but also check the trend of moving from villages to cities, as parents would see the benefits of having their children study in rural schools.
Sketch of a donor
A FORMER employee of Punjab Agricultural University (PAU), Rup Singh Roopa knew he would one day be a doctor. When in school, he also had to take the family cattle out for grazing.
He did his schooling at a quick pace — two classes in a year — to reach high school. He was in the non-medical group, but soon realised that his parents would never be able to pay his fees, he recalls. In exams, he used to attempt all options given in the question paper and put down a note that the examiner could check the ones he wanted.
He became a PAU clerk and spent 38 years at the university before retiring as an officer. Having known what lack of opportunity can mean, when he came to know that the university wanted donations for this reason, he was more than willing. His preference was that the children should be from either his village, Sailwara, or from Bathinda. He has paid for the first-year fees of the batch of Plus One and has pledged to fund more students with the help of friends abroad.