Salesian Graduate “Pays it Forward”
Deepu was alarmed. Throughout his home state of Chennai, India, children were dropping out of school due to pandemic-related restrictions and their inability to learn from home. And then a lightbulb went off—one that promises to illuminate the path forward for dozens of disadvantaged students.
“A taxi driver who parks his vehicle outside our apartment casually mentioned the need for providing children with laptops and tablets,” Deepu explains. “His own children are attending online classes using tablets that they received thanks to somebody’s generosity.”
That conversation resonated with Deepu, a 1997 graduate of Don Bosco Egmore in Chennai, who had been wanting to do something meaningful to support others during the pandemic. Together with fellow classmates, he “thought that we should do something that would benefit more people and support unaddressed needs that could have settled to the bottom unnoticed.”
According to international aid groups, at least 463 million children around the world have been unable to continue their studies during the pandemic because they lack the tools they need to participate in remote learning. These hardships especially impact girls living in low- and middle-income countries, where gender norms often prevent them from using computers even when they’re available. And once they’re out of school, the risks of not returning are high.
“We know from past crises—including Ebola in West Africa—that girls are often the first to leave school and the last to go back,” explains Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “As families grapple with worsening poverty, increasing caregiving responsibilities, ongoing school closures and more, educating their daughters falls to the bottom of the priority list. And the negative effects of that ripple out into society at large, because these girls are more vulnerable to violence, exploitation, trafficking and early marriage.”
As it turns out, Deepu and his classmates were attuned to this very issue. “There are multiple reports from India and beyond about children dropping out of the school system due to economic pressure brought on by the pandemic,” he says. “In India, the girls are at a greater disadvantage in this situation.” So, in the spirit of Don Bosco himself, they rallied to address it in their own backyards—launching an initiative called Min Siragugal, or Digital Wings, to provide laptops for impoverished girls enrolled in schools on the outskirts of Chennai. Their fundraising campaign to finance the laptops brought in nearly $24,000 in just 12 days.
“Initially, we thought we could get laptops for 25 girls,” Deepu says. With the money raised, however, Digital Wings can now purchase twice as many—an unexpected and pleasant surprise for the group, who are now dreaming even bigger. According to Deepu, they plan to continue the initiative each year and hope to expand its scope to additional schools and even colleges. And they’re hoping to secure corporate support to help Digital Wings—and girls’ futures—soar.
“I’m so happy to hear that Deepu and his fellow graduates are truly embodying their Salesian education,” says Fr. Gus. “Stories like these are why our missionaries do what they do every day, because the investments they make in every student pay enormous societal dividends. And we’re also profoundly grateful to our generous donors, whose support makes this education possible in India and in more than 130 other countries around the world.”
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