The Optimist Citizen

This Farmer’s Son from Maharashtra Helps 125 Marginalized Students Access Higher Education & Fellowships

Raju Kendre, a first-generation learner from the small village of Pimpri in Maharashtra, bagged the UK’s Chevening Scholarship in June this year and will travel to the country to pursue higher studies. The 27-year-old also runs an NGO, Eklavya, that aims to bring grassroots students into mainstream education. He has helped 125 students like him access higher education in reputed universities in the country.

Raju Kendre, who hails from the Vidarbha region of Maharashtra, is a first-generation learner in his family. As his parents were not able to access even basic primary education, they made sure their children did. Raju completed his primary education from a Zilla Parishad school and decided to pursue the medical stream ahead. Due to a lack of mentorship and academic sources, he could not clear the exam. Raju did not give up. With a determined spirit to work for public welfare, he decided to prepare for civil services and moved to Pune to avail a degree in Bachelor of Arts. Financial constraints and socio-economic barriers made the social worker drop out from Pune University and switch to a Distance Education Degree Programme. 

While completing his degree, Raju volunteered to work in the Melghat region of Maharashtra with the Korku tribe in the development sector. This experience in social work left a significant impact on him and further motivated him to dedicate his life to societal service. He continues to live by the Ubuntu philosophy – ‘I am because we are’.Post his degree, Raju pursued Masters in Social Work in Rural Development at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. After this, he made up his mind to work for the development of his village and contested for Panchayati elections. Unfortunately, the social activist lost the elections. However, following this experience, he went on to receive the Chief Minister Rural Development Fellowship in Maharashtra.

Raju’s determination to work for the betterment of others has been his guiding force. This motivated him to lay the foundation of his NGO Eklavya in 2017 to help first-generation learners like him avail mainstream education and provide them with knowledge and professional training that will enable them to become leaders of their development. Within three years, Eklavya has successfully sent more than 125 students to study in premier higher education institutes and to a few fellowship programs. Raju’s contribution to the development towards rural development won him the most prestigious scholarship in the British government’s international award program, the ‘Chevening Scholarship’ in June this year. The scholarship allows young change Makers around the world to pursue post-graduation at UK universities. Raju will be pursuing Development Studies in the UK and hopes to use his knowledge and networking to work for the unprivileged youth from tribal communities.

Raju’s journey has not been easy. Lack of mentorship after school, lack of financial resources, knowledge, and self-confidence, the social activist has come a long way. Raju did not give up in the face of life even when caste, class, cultural, and language barriers stood in front of him. Instead, he believes that problems and struggles allow a person to grow and bring out the best in him/her. Raju believes the government needs to work towards the health and education sectors of the country as we continue to occupy a low position in the Human Development Index. He believes the government should create more scholarships for higher education and reach out to the unprivileged children of the country, helping them become leaders in every field available. He also believes that the education system of India needs to be improved. The current system continues to maintain a class and caste distinction and hampers rural people from availing opportunities. He believes in the “universalization of education” and presses the need to start questioning the system.

Raju himself aims to use all his knowledge, experience, and networking to good use and establish a university in central India by 2040 that aims to provide quality higher education to first learners like him and build grassroots leadership in the development or social sphere. He wishes to dedicate his life to the same for the next 2-3 decades. Raju believes that education is the only tool that will bring children from tribal, Dalit, and nomadic families to the forefront and believes that it is our responsibility, as a society, to ensure that everyone can access quality education irrespective of where they come from. After all, one cannot change where they come from, but they can always decide where they head to in future.

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