The Optimist Citizen



“There is not much to write about me”, she said when I spoke to her for the first time. By the end of the conversation, I realised she was wrong!
Mukkudal Village of Tirunelveli district in Tamil Nadu, lives out of beedi rolling and still does not have a much flourished face for education. There are lesser children found in the village schools than at their houses, rolling beedis. She was also expected to be one of them, one who will grow up to dwell in the village itself and earn for the family out of the prevailing source of livelihood. Bound in a cobweb of family responsibilities and conventional thoughts, it was difficult for her to convince her parents that she wished to lead her life differently, on a path unexplored by them. But her thoughts flew high, high enough to make Ashweetha Shetty the first graduate in her family.

This was just the start of her successful journey. During the final year of her graduation in Business Administration, Ashweetha began appearing for various examinations for further studies. A usual day at the library in her college brought her life to a turning point. The librarian brought to her notice an advertisement of Young India Fellowship of Ashoka University. Ashweetha, not much confident of getting selected, applied for the fellowship. Ashoka University identified her potential and granted her the fellowship. Following a Skype interview, Ashweetha became a part of the year long fellowship programme of Young India Fellowship.

YIF introduced her to a completely new environment, a place and a lifestyle she was alienated to. She had moved to Delhi. “But it was the most important year of my life indeed. It was difficult to adjust in the initial few months and then I settled gradually. The entire experience of the fellowship helped me to understand myself better. I discovered my real ambitions”, gladly mentions Ashweetha.

After completing the fellowship programme, she worked in Sughavazhvu Healthcare. Inspired by one of her professors, she got engaged in a yearlong project on healthcare awareness programs with this organization. She worked and spread healthcare awareness amongst the youth and senior citizens in the rural districts of Tamil Nadu. This gave her a valuable exposure of field work in villages.

Back there, in her village, there were hundreds of ‘potential Ashweethas’ whose lives, bound inside beedi rolls, had become purposeless. Ashweetha herself was a witness of many such young talents unfortunately getting converted into beedi rollers. But she firmly knew that her sole objective in life would be to give a hope back to her village.
Leaving Sughavazhvu Healthcare after a year, Ashweetha went back to her village to do what she had always longed for. BODHI TREE, an organization that skills rural students and make career opportunities available for them, was founded by Ashweetha along with a few other friends. “If I could do it, anybody else can. It is just that the rural youth is not aware and do not have an access to opportunities. I thought of filling the gap and this is how I started Bodhi Tree”, explains Ashweetha. They visit schools and colleges and conduct workshops for the rural students and have also published a booklet containing details of various career options and examinations for higher studies.
Life brought a lot of hurdles in her path, but Ashweetha never changed her direction. “I was firm and clear about my goals in life. Today’s youth has potential and ample opportunities. The only thing required is responsibility and determination towards their ambitions in life”, she says. No challenge could kill her dream. Her courage and will power knew how to make that a reality.

It is true that some are born with their bright fortune, while some give birth to their own. Some believe in destiny and let their life go in the name of fate and fortune. But amongst them, exist few, who write their own destiny. Extraordinary and exceptional, we term them.


Ashweetha is now Crowdfunding to take her work to the next level. Help her in her journey of empowering Rural Graduates.

See what Ashweetha’ has to say about her campaign

Why I am fundraising?
I grew up in a small village in Tirunelveli,  TamilNadu. Being the first generation graduate, there was no one to guide. My parents are illiterate. I was looking for people to help me.  I applied for every opportunity in the newspaper and one such opportunity took me to Delhi to do a fellowship program. Today I am a Young India Fellow and an Acumen Regional Fellow.  I want all rural college graduates to have access to similar opportunities.
There is a difference between urban and rural college graduate not in terms of intelligence but in terms of remote geography, lack of pedagogical resources, cultural abstinence and poor infrastructure.
I want to change that.
What would you get?
Apart from bringing smile to a rural graduate’s face and becoming a participant in their journey to empowerment, you can expect some hand-written gesture of love from these students to you. And if you visit this part of the country, you can be a guest trainer for one of our training sessions.


Story by : Piyuli Ghosh

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