The Optimist Citizen

After reinventing himself, this farmer’s son is now a role model for government school students

22-year old Maneesh Sharma, a resident of Ambedkar Nagar district in Uttar Pradesh, grew up in the village of Jalalpur. Born to a father who worked as a farmer and cattle rearer, humility played an integral role in Maneesh’s upbringing. Not one to blatantly misalign himself as one who had a difficult upbringing, Maneesh was always content with the way he grew up. Probably, this humility was what always nudged him towards a life of constant learning.

Since the time he was a primary school student, he wholeheartedly indulged himself in learning. Eventually, he developed an interest in science and mathematics in school & owing to his hard work, passion, he went on to pursue Engineering from Delhi University with the help of several scholarships offered by the institute rewarding his upright calibre.“Throughout my journey, starting from the village to becoming an engineer, I have realized that I am the kind of a person who easily adapts to the situations, circumstances, and place. That is what has kept me going,” says Maneesh. It was his own familiarity with challenging circumstances that helped Maneesh explore and widen his capabilities, beyond the purview of academics and engineering. He became a part of an international organisation that taught kids about the importance and applicability of sciences. Discovering the limitless possibilities of experiential knowledge as a tool to share learnings, filled Maneesh with a new resolve. And a surreal convergence of events brought him to Pravah – a Delhi based organisation that has been working for the past 25 years to help young people explore and reimagine their role and impact on society as a whole.

Once Maneesh didn’t have any classes on a Saturday and he came across an advertisement of the 5th Space Program run by Pravah. He walked into the gathering without having the slightest idea of what was to be brought on the table. The notions of bringing some good, fundamental changes in the society were covered in a thought-provoking manner accompanied by several games, and mind-boggling sessions. In no time, this concept of exploring a new found 5th Space in his life captivated his mind to such an extent; that his friends back in college were astonished to see him so driven to present and carry out his ideas. Upon finishing his engineering degree, he applied to two multinational companies and to the SMILE In-turn-ship programme at Pravah. Even though he was selected to the two companies, Pravah’s unique method of exploration kept Maneesh gleefully tethered. Under this internship program, he was placed for a month in Shri Bhuvaneshwari Mahila Ashram, an organisation based in Uttarakhand, working to provide healthcare, hygiene and disaster support to children and providing aid to children with disability. Under an initiative, they had adopted five inter-colleges and a primary school in Garhtarh with an intent to initiate their Multi-Growth Learning Program.

Manoeuvring tricky bylanes of circumstances and tepid responses from authorities, Maneesh attempted to refurbish the program. It received a prodigious response from the students and has continued to run even after his departure. Going from home to home in the mountainous terrain, talking to children, teaching them, guiding 12th standard students in chemistry and physics practicals and counselling them in their career choices; was the course of Maneesh’s work. His work revolved around educating the children owing to which tremendous academic progress was observed in these students. “The students were immensely talented and were highly motivated to learn, they only required some sort of support and guidance and we were enthralled seeing their development. I had a very good bond with all of them and they too expressed themselves freely” says Maneesh.

Speaking of how the SMILE in-turn-ship program brought a change in his life, Maneesh mentioned “I always believed only reading and studying could lead to a complete inner-development. After successfully completing the SMILE in-turn-ship program I discovered a new side of myself. I got to know of the various aspects of society at large. Back in the village as well, we had faced some basic problems with the overall management. This gave me a broader understanding of the existence of these issues in society. This in-turn-ship made me self-reliant.” Maneesh recollected his own life as a student, as he became more involved in educating the students in Uttarakhand. “If someone has an unbeaten passion to learn along with little guidance, then nothing is impossible.” believes Maneesh.

Having completed his internship in July 2017, Maneesh continued his involvement with Pravah with the SMILE Fellowship. He pursued a new project to continue his work of enabling government schools in imparting quality education. Under this fellowship, he visited four schools in Delhi and quickly dispelled their inhibitions to work with NGOs. He started teaching students from difficult backgrounds. For most of these students constant barrage of abuses, unhealthy dietary habits, and mental health problems were a common sight. The students were pleased and the teachers were impressed by his teaching style.

The word of his work reached the education officers assigned to the schools at Lajpat Nagar and they permitted him to teach the students for an hour every day. Two of the students that Maneesh taught are now studying at a polytechnic college and at an Industrial Training Institute. Maneesh is in constant touch with all these students and parents. The change today is unprecedented and Maneesh’s efforts with the children are a testament to that change. Maneesh remains associated with Pravah and also aspires to pursue UPSC to become a civil servant. “I think and believe that everybody faces many challenges in bringing a positive change in society and thus, public administration can be a good way to work directly for solutions. I want to live for society – for children, their education, their health, women issues or the rights of the third gender.” Maneesh proudly tells us.

Pravah SMILE In-turn-ship is a 3 – 6 week voluntary placement with an organisation/movement in any part of the country. SMILE encourages volunteers to turn the gaze inwards, and extend the understanding of their own selves to the society. It is thus referred to as “In-turn-ship”.
Pravah’s SMILE Fellowship aims to create self and social impact by enabling youth to take up leadership roles and run social action projects for a period of 6 months supported by mentors. To connect to the Pravah SMILE programme please write to

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