How these Ashoka Univ grads travelled over 1000 km in autos to raise awareness on girl child education during the pandemic 

These five Ashoka University graduates took off on a 1,700 km-long expedition in an autorickshaw from Bengaluru to Mumbai to raise awareness for girls' education. We trace their journey
The Team | Pics: Auto for Impact
The Team | Pics: Auto for Impact

Social work is not all dull and boring, it can be fun too. Your version of social can be something unique, something you're passionate about through which you can help the community around you. That's exactly what these five Ashoka University graduates — Preetha Datta, Anshul Rai Sharma, Paul Kurian, Venkatesh Thapan, and Vidur Singh — have made possible with their one-of-a-kind initiative Auto for Impact, through which they spread awareness about education for the girl child across the country. They collaborated with Project Nanhi Kali, an NGO that focuses on educating underprivileged girl children, and took a 1,700 kilometre-long expedition in a vibrant and colourful autorickshaw from Bengaluru to Mumbai.

All of it sounds quite fun but their mission was to raise awareness and then funds to educate young girls, shares Vidur. "Sometime in August last year, we began planning this initiative. The pandemic was getting worse and we were privileged enough to be in the comfort of our own homes, but we knew that a lot of people in the country for whom it was a disaster. We wanted to do something - we had just graduated from college and the theme of education was ripe in our hearts. We began thinking on the lines of women empowerment, child education and then we finally settled on the girl child education cause. We knew COVID had led to the shutdown of schools across the country, we could shift to online classes but a majority of the population don't have access to proper internet or even have smartphones. It is a huge problem in rural India due to the lack of resources, so we thought of working towards helping them and wanted to do it in a unique manner," he recalls.

The five friends could have easily gone and talked to people, but why ride an auto? "We wanted to do it in a way where it sticks out and people would say 'Woah! These kids are riding an auto', which would easily create a lot of curiosity and the desire to know what's happening. It's a story that people will talk about for a longer time," says Vidur.

Why an autorickshaw? The team specifically chose the ghat roads, which were scenic and driving in an auto was a unique experience altogether. "Every person we met on the roads was curious and asked what's going on, the auto is brightly painted and the hospitality was great in the new places. The auto was provided by TVS, one of our sponsors. We commissioned a local Bengaluru-based artist and he painted it for us. Two of us learnt how to drive an auto for the campaign - Anshul and I. e reached out to local auto drivers, they were unwilling to teach us at first then they agreed," shares Vidur.

The goal was to travel from Bengaluru to Mumbai, but due to the pandemic and the current situation, by the time the youngsters reached Goa, it was April 15. What was happening to Maharashtra then, out of concern for everyone's health, out of solidarity, they decided to temporarily pause it in Goa. "We will continue once the pandemic is a lot more manageable with more resources and vaccinations, once we are all vaccinated so that we are not spreaders. We will still make the Goa to Mumbai journey happen when the situation permits. We have already covered over 1000 kilometres but the last leg of the journey also has a lot of significance," adds Vidur. They want to donate the autorickshaw to a family in need. "Nanhi Kali helped us find a family who is located in Mumbai, that is the plan going forward. We want to complete the journey and give the autorickshaw to the family," says Vidur speaking of why completing the journey is such an important task.

While on their journey, the youngsters couldn't conduct a lot of on-ground events given the COVID situation, however, they were able to communicate, interact with the locals and raise awareness for the cause. "We didn't do a lot of on-ground events due to the pandemic but ended up doing a lot of online resource mobilisation, webinars through our college, by the time we were driving we had already gotten a lot of corporate sponsorship directly for the cause. We now have 12 sponsors on board and have managed to raise enough money to educate more than 450 young girls,) around Rs 30 lakh," shares Vidur. A large part of the initiative was getting the funds in. The team contacted around 250-300 companies over email, over call to get that kind of support for the campaign, getting funds to educate the children.

Partnering with Project Nanhi Kali was a well-thought-of decision, says Vidur. "The crux of a fundraiser is who you are raising the funds for, which organisation, where is it going, whether it's reaching the kids and for that, we did a lot of research. Nanhi Kali really stresses visibility and accountability, aligned perfectly with our cause and have been working on-ground since 1996. One of the other factors for us was how much funds get utilised for the NGO's own exercise, marketing, ad, secondary expenses, that was not going to the end beneficiary. Nanhi Kali stands out here, 95 per cent goes to the cause and the remaining five goes to the logistics cost of the NGO. Whatever we have raised has been directly donated to the NGO and is already being utilised," quips Vidur.

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