When given a chance through education, the poor often thrive. Literacy India, which aims to give underprivileged people the keys to a fulfilling life - education, empowerment and employment, believes in that.
Started in 1996, the organization helps men, women and children, teaching not only basic literacy but also vocational skills and creative expression through theatre, painting and other forms of art.
One of Literacy India's success stories involves Rahul Kumar, who was part of the program and later shared screen space with Aamir Khan in the movie ‘3 Idiots’.
But there are quieter successes like 22 year old Manoj Sansanwal. His father died when he was five and his mother sells milk. He underwent computer training program of Literacy India and was successfully employed.
20-year-old Nisha, supports a family of five. She enrolled for a one-year training course and is now become an instructor at Literacy India's Daulatabad Centre and a skilled bag designer.
Literacy India has 15 centers around Delhi, NCR, as well as a special venture for indigenous people in West Bengal and Rajasthan. The organization also has an 18,000-square-foot school building on half an acre at Village Bajghera, complete with classrooms, an assembly hall, science and multimedia labs and a library.
The organization's core program is called Vidyapeeth, and offers classes up to high school. Children otherwise often destined for child labor are provided with top-notch education, excursions and meetings with well-known personalities to inspire them. The student-teacher ratio is low, about one teacher to 25 students. Children also receive uniforms, books and stationery. The program has grown from 50 students to 633 today.
Literacy India also conducts a number of other programs designed to lift the poor and help them become self-sufficient by developing their talents.
One such program is Pathshala, where children are taught to read and write within a period of three months to a year. They then get counseling and help getting into mainstream schools. Pathshala also offers classes every summer for dropouts from various government schools. To attract and keep students, the organizers provide a fun learning environment and supplement basic learning with instruction in dance, music, painting and computers.
So far, this program has touched the lives of more than 700 people. Promising students from Pathshala and Vidyapeeth can get financial help for higher education.
Another program, Karigari, gives vocational training to students who are not interested in traditional schooling. These students learn tailoring, beauty culture and computers. They also take courses in retail management, housekeeping and other trades. All courses are designed to help break the cycle of poverty for these students and their families.
The Shiksarth program, meanwhile, nurtures the creative talent of slum children, who learn theatre, dance, pottery and painting. Other programs provide health outreach to villages, nurture awareness of social issues and create community-based livelihood training in rural and semi-urban areas -- all to improve lives through knowledge.
Many have praised Literacy India and the people it has helped. Actor Aamir Khan said working with Rahul was a wonderful experience, and in a letter called the boy "hard-working, diligent, respectful, focused and passionate about his work."
"In my opinion Rahul has a very bright future and great potential, and I am glad Literacy India is making sure that he successfully completes his education besides pursuing his parallel career in acting," Khan wrote.
Literacy India students have also been asked to perform for dignitaries, including past President APJ Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Literacy India officials are now looking toward the future, hoping to achieve their goal of a better-educated, empowered India in which more people have the opportunity to reach their potential.
Financial support for the organization comes from a number of sources, including the Delhi Dynamic Round Table India, Dell and American Express. Individual donors also play an integral part in keeping Literacy India thriving.