Akarsh Shroff, the Founder of S.P.A.R.K, received the Diana Award in the ‘Education’ category for the work done by his organisation on societal upliftment and helping underprivileged students
Akarsh Shroff became one of the recipients of this prestigious award for the work done by his not-for-profit organization. “I was overjoyed because I never expected to receive this award. Even last year, I was elated when I could listen to the speech of a Diana Award recipient. It was fascinating,” added Akarsh. The Diana Award was established in memory of Diana who was the Princess of Wales. The award is the most prestigious accolade a young person aged between 9-25 can receive for social action or humanitarian work.
S.P.A.R.K and its formation
A 20-year-old computer science student from BITS Pilani, Akarsh Shroff co-founded the S.P.A.R.K NGO in Karnataka in May 2018. Akarsh noticed that students from underprivileged communities do not have any mentorship networks at their homes, and hence they face many first-hand issues.
“I served as the President of the social welfare committee at my school when we visited a school for blind children and a government school as well. On visiting the government school, I observed that most of the children were not very competent. For example, the class 5 students were unable to perform basic arithmetic operations. Then I identified that government policies brought about better enrollment rates. However, children are unable to benefit from that education,” says Akarsh.
He went back to his school and asked his friends if they wanted to do something about this situation. Happily, most of his peers resonated with his idea. Although there was significant intent, Akarsh confesses they had very little idea of how to go about it. They confided in their determination and started with S.P.A.R.K as a registered entity nonetheless. “The process has both improved and evolved with time,” he says ” and we still know there’s a lot we’ll learn in the days to come.”
The on-ground activity of the team
In the Pre-COVID phase, Akarsh’s NGO was only focusing on the areas of education. 500+ volunteers became a part of it who contributed to over 16,000+ hours of volunteering. As many as 5000 children benefited from the program.
Just like every other organization, S.P.A.R.K also faced the initial difficulties of shifting to the online mode. Most of the children did not have a smartphone or a laptop to attend the classes. Also, a lot of them were not able to recharge their data packages as well. UNICEF has also said that more than 31% of the children did not have basic internet facilities. The team also worked with the Gram Panchayat of the rural areas to set up devices with internet facilities. These devices were installed both in anganwadis and orphanages. In the last part of the fund relief, the children were awarded scholarships worth Rs 1.8 lakhs.
Assistance from others
The bunch of youngsters were able to raise Rs 40,00,000 across the first and the second wave. Students from 20+ universities donated nominal amounts to help underprivileged children. Apart from this, they also received equipment worth Rs 17,00,000 with partnerships from other foundations like BITsian NGO, corporate companies, and others. With support flowing in, Akarsh is confident that the work and its impact will only grow from hereon.
Importance of doing community work
Akarsh believes that it is important for us as citizens to help our community in any way possible. “Everyone has the power and the potential to bring a change in this world.” he says, “Our society keeps asking us what we want to be when we grow up. Why do we have to grow up to be something? Why can’t we create a change today? The change needs to begin right now.”
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