In 2012, 20 students appeared for the SLC exams from Biswamitra Ganesh Secondary school, a local community school in rural Lalitpur. Biswamitra Ganesh has established itself as one of the best public schools in the country. All 20 passed the exams with four students scoring distinction. However, the euphoria of this unprecedented result in the community barely lasted, because the futures of these students remained uncertain. These students did not have the resources to continue on to good schools for their higher education.
High achieving students from previous years had relied on Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) scholarships to continue on to high school. However, just HSEB tuition waivers would not be adequate for these students as the associated cost of higher education can be prohibitive for many. In addition to being uncertain about whether HSEB would really nominate their names to good schools, these students did not have the confidence to dream big.
In 2012, Shrochis was conducting research for his PhD thesis on education and employment. At that time, he was based in Lubhoo and was teaching in Biswamitra Ganesh. He was touched by the potential and plight of some of the students there, and wrote about it in a national daily. Vidhan had already been involved with Santi School Project, so when the two caught up over a public function, he provided the initial impetus and boldness to start an initiative to support students like those from Biswamitra. The two pledged their own money to get this initiative off the ground. Trina, who had extensive experience working with children and young people, was excited by the project and enthusiastically joined to steer the ship in the right direction. The discussion to support a few students started taking shape and spiraled out of control (in a good way) to ultimately give birth to Samaanta.
We started with a few students from Biswasmitra on an ad-hoc basis in 2012. However, we have now made our selection process more systematic and rigorous, and we were able to support 30 students from 13 public schools in four districts within our first five years. So far, we have selected 62 students for the fellowship from 8 different districts. We aspire to establish a national endowment to be able to recruit even more deserving students from across the country in the coming years.
We started with no paid staff and no office space. The board members managed the program alongside their regular jobs. As Samaanta grew, we have acquired an office and staff members to manage the operations.