The gift of education amidst a pandemic

Some of the members of ISAC; and sanitisers being distributed as part of COVID relief activity. Photo: Special Arrangement  

Autorickshaw driver R. Venkatesan was venting out his frustration over how the pandemic had shrunk his earnings, to a passenger, he did not realise the conversation would lead to some references.

The only earning member in the family, Venkatesan was struggling to pay his children’s fees. The passenger referred him to a non-governmental organisation and as Venkatesan’s daughter, V. Swethasri, was a meritorious student, her first semester college fee of ₹20,000 was transferred to her college’s bank account.

At least 15 more students have received the gift of education thanks to a group of young working professionals and students who help fund the fees of students whose families are struggling to make ends meet due to the pandemic. This group functions under the banner of Indian Social Activist Council (ISAC).

Started by a group of students from the 2014 batch of Christ King Girls Higher Secondary School, a government-aided institution in East Tambaram, ISAC was registered in 2015.

“The seeds of starting an NGO to help the less-privileged were sown during our class X days, but it took shape as soon as we completed school,” says 23-year-old Sheeba Priyadharshini, founder-president.

Some of their classmates were married off early as their parents did not have the means to educate them, and that got them thinking about helping underprivileged students.

“We were regular to inter-school debate competitions and a majority of the topics were around societal issues,” says Raga Ravi, a school teacher and vice-secretary of ISAC, on the foundations of their social vision.

Over the last five years, ISAC has focussed on environment-related activities such as tree planting and lake clean-ups and offering personality development programmes to children in slums and also to those in orphanages.

When the pandemic hit, they noticed the digital divide and how parents, especially those without work, struggled to meet their children’s educational expenses.

The gift of education amidst a pandemic

“That is when we decided to shift our focus to education as it was the need of the hour,” says Sheeba.

Most of the beneficiaries of ‘Kalvi’, as their initiative is called, are from Ram Nagar in Nanganallur, a few villages in Tiruvallur and Pollachi.

“We are familiar with these areas as we have people to help us run background checks on students, but we are open to rewarding scholarships to deserving students from other areas too,” says Raga.

Humble beginnings

“When we started this programme to support deserving students hailing from underprivileged families, each of us in the group contributed 5% of our monthly salary towards the cause,” says Sheeba, a lawyer by profession.

Of the 15 active members in ISAC, eight are Sheeba’s classmates from school.

As more requests started coming, they started approaching donors.

“We are transparent in what we do. For example, we do not want people transferring money to our accounts but to the educational institution directly. After we have done a background check about the candidate, we ask the donor also to speak to them,” says Sheeba.

Members say they follow a thorough process before choosing students for educational aid. V.S. Mahalakshmi, principal of Prince Matriculation School in Adambakkam, says ISAC paid the fees of a few of their students.

“As many have lost their jobs, we allow parents to pay the fees even a year later,” says Mahalakshmi, adding that she hoped there were more such groups helping deserving students in this manner.

For details, visit

Others providing scholarships

Deepam: A majority of students that benefit from the Deepam’s scholarship programme are from schools associated with the non-profit. “But we also make exceptions depending on needs and based on references,” says R. Ragagopalan, a volunteer. Deepam is associated with 10 government and aided institutions, a majority of which are in Chennai. For details, visit

Udhavum Ullangal Public Charitable Trust: If you would like to refer any deserving student for the grant they offer every year, make sure the application reaches them by mid-April. For details, call 9655732478 or visit http://udhavumullangal.

Help the Blind Foundation: Any visually challenged student who has received admission for pursuing an under-graduate programme in a recognised college can apply for this scholarship. Disability certificate is necessary. Those seeking scholarship for the first time (students pursuing first year of a under-graduate or a post-graduate course) should send in their applications before November 30, 2020. It can be accessed online. For details, call 9003330197 or visit

Everest Scholarship: The non-profit runs the ‘I am the Change Scholarship’ for orphans and students with a single parent. The scholarship is meant for students who are applying for under graduate courses and applications must reach the organisation between April and May. For details, visit https://www.everest

Mugavari Foundation — Those pursuing UG courses can apply to the Foundation for their annual scholarship grant. This year’s process is currently on, and they consider fresh application round the year depending on the need. For details, visit

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2021 7:39:18 PM |

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