How Arshya Gaur battled anorexia, depression to become an author and EdTech entrepreneur at 17

Through her platform Read Together, Arshya is also providing tablets to underprivileged children to provide them equal access to quality education
Pic: Arshya Gaur
Pic: Arshya Gaur

A student's evolution from a child to a teenager is a journey in itself, there are so many challenges beyond just getting bad grades, says Arshya Gaur, who was the youngest author to be invited to the Jaipur Literary Festival 2021. Arshya is an author, a mental health advocate, an entrepreneur and all at just 17. After battling depression and anorexia at 13, she now runs a creative EdTech platform called Read Together, which has a series of unique audio-visual videos based on the NCERT English syllabus of Classes 1-5, aimed at kids who don't have English as their primary language. Her platform makes learning more engaging and fun to enhance the experience of children who struggle with reading or have learning disabilities.

Through Read Together, Arshya is also providing tablets to underprivileged children to provide them equal access to quality education. "I started this initiative around May, where I set up a crowdfunding platform on Ketto to raise money to provide tablets with an internet connection to underprivileged children. Even though Read Together is a platform that integrates education with technology to teach English to children, not everyone was able to access the platform, I wasn't exactly happy with my reach. If the end goal is to be a part of the programme, there has to be a medium to let them get into it — technology and gadgets which are not available to a large section of children. We have already raised one million for this," explains Arshya.

Speaking about why she set up the Read Together platform in the first place, she adds, "I set up Read Together last year mainly looking at the pandemic's effect on children and education but in the past five years, there's been immense digitisation in the entire world, starting from monetary transactions to education. Everything is happening online. That's what gave me the idea of integrating technology and education. I have been very passionate about the English language, so I took the Class 1-5 NCERT syllabus and made it into audio-visual aids like karaoke, so there's visuals in the background and voiceover to read out the story where the words get highlighted and children can read along with it." Her major challenge was to get these aids to her target audience, especially schools during the lockdown as they have been shut. "I approached a few schools and they have adopted my technology now. This year four schools and an NGO have adopted it," she adds.

Arshya was invited to the Jaipur Literary Festival 2021 to talk about her book How to Open a Parachute. The book is a collection of her poetry about Arshya's own struggles with depression and anorexia. "The poems are on battling those conditions, feelings, the turmoil that I went through, articulating that through the book. I was invited on a panel along with other esteemed writers to talk about mental health, my book, the stigma around mental health and how we need more understanding and acceptance," she shares.

Arshya's battle with depression was all a culmination of several things, she says. "When I was younger, I was this chubby kid and the objectification always got to me but since I was a child, it was buried in my subconscious. It was only when I grew older and got involved in sports that I began playing football and seeing the other athletes, how they looked and things changed. I thought I would be as popular if I looked like them. But that was not the case, obviously. I needed a lot of therapy to overcome all of this, I had to learn to voice my feelings and not feel sorry for who I am. Therapy gave me a lot of reassurance," Arshya recalls.

Arshya feels it is extremely important to address mental health issues in children. "The school environment, teachers, peers, all play on the psyche of students. That decides how they approach their student life and student ahead. Building a narrative is extremely affirmative to encourage students and enable them to voice their own opinions," she adds. Arshya wishes to become a writer, take up the cause of education as well as be an advocate of mental health. "Writing is something that gives me a platform to voice my opinions and I will continue to do it on whichever platform possible," she concludes.

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