My birthday is coming up, but instead of planning a party this year, I thought I would send out a small and dear-to-my-heart request. When I stopped teaching full-time at the Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project a few years ago, I became a part-time volunteer for an organization I encountered during my time there called She’s the First. So, in addition to helping them edit a few times per year and helping their campus chapter at the University of Notre Dame, I want to share a very nice philanthropic experience with you which they organize and provide.
She’s the First is an organization which provides scholarships to girls all over the world who are the first in their families to attend school. When I first met the co-founder of She’s the First in India, Tammy Tibbetts, they were sponsoring the tuition, boarding and women's leadership programs for 40 of the girls at Shanti Bhavan. These are girls from the "lowest" caste in India who otherwise might not be in school at all, but now they are not only the first girls in their families to attend school but also the first of all their family members to complete both high school AND college. An incredible accomplishment!
Now She’s the First sponsors far more students: 923 Scholars total, including girls attending schools in Tanzania, Nepal, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Peru, Sierra Leone, Kenya, South Sudan, and the Gambia. She’s the First specifically targets areas where girls are traditionally discouraged from attending school and already, their success stories are already too many to count in full. Because the need is huge (and the givers are generous), She’s the First continues to grow each year! I am very proud to be a small part of their story and to share this opportunity with you.
For instance, please meet Seetha (see cover picture) , who recently was admitted to Shanti Bhavan and the sponsorship of whom was a gift to me last year from a super duper thoughtful friend. Also, meet Preetha (see 2nd picture, pictured with another STF Scholar Yeshwini), my former 11th grade student who will very soon graduate from college with a major in Political Science! She has received STF sponsorship since she was as young as Seetha. Thirdly, meet Vinceya (see 3rd picture), an SB graduate and former STF Scholar who after completing college was hired by Amazon. Just last week, she found out that she is shortlisted for a program called Crossroads run by Harvard in Dubai for South Asian students seeking Masters degrees in the U.S. Fingers crossed for your interview, Vince! [Update: Vinceya has since been selected and travelled to Dubai with several other Shanti Bhavan students!]
And finally, meet my good friend Chaithra (see 4th picture, featured with Scholar Kavitha) an SB graduate already well into her career who just completed a fancy business trip to London with her company Goldman & Sachs and was recently accepted to complete a Master's Degree in Scotland. The Shanti Bhavan graduates and STF scholars are doing very well, to say the least.
And although I can no longer teach and mentor and learn from the wonderful students at Shanti Bhavan in their everyday lives, I do find some small comfort in covering the yearly expenses one of the new incoming students. Yes, I know it is a sort of self-centered reason to support a child in another country – in order to ease my guilt a bit for essentially leaving my students – but I also think that guilt-replaced-with-reward is often the most successful philanthropy. By that, I mean that movements and organizations which focus on both empathy for others and positive rewards for its supporters are arguably the most sustainable ones.
She’s the First is exactly this sort of organization. It is committed and connected and both outward- and inward-looking. It is one that will last. My now good friend Tammy Tibbetts, the co-founder with co-founder Christen Brandt, designed She’s the First in such a way that when you support a scholar you receive timely updates as your scholar grows up, a warm-and-fuzzy email which everyone surely needs from time to time. She’s the First had humble beginnings – famously first launched as just a Youtube video on Facebook – but now has grown to over a million dollar annual budget. Just last week, again solely through Facebook supporters, She’s the First won a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation donation match in the total amount of $187,874! Thus, the impact of STF is now tremendous but its operations in New York are still small, personal, trustworthy and friendly. STF ensures that every single dollar you donate goes toward the scholar’s expenses with whom you are matched. (They do this by raising money independently for their operational costs in New York.) Clearly I could go on and on about how much I love this organization, but you can learn more for yourself by checking it out for yourself on their website:
In short, for my birthday, I am committing to support one more STF scholar (in lieu of half the cost of one of my world flights), and totally in Eat-Pray-Love-style, I would truly be thrilled if I convinced you to help me, or better yet, to also support an STF scholar on your own. The cost of a one-year tuition scholarship is $400/year. There also are options to give more per year to a student (up to $1400) in support of various leadership and empowerment programs and for students who also need boarding. With this higher level option – the “Champion” level – you are able to exchange letters with the student as well.
Here is the link for starting a scholarship on your own:
For those who understandably cannot afford the full cost of a scholarship, however, please still consider providing a small donation in support of my new scholar whose name and location is yet to be determined. I plan to give the money on my birthday day (Aug 11) and whoever wants to be a part can vote on the partner and location for my next scholar to help me decide. When we are matched with a specific location and scholar, I will send out the lovely and uplifting quarterly updates to everyone who contributed. I aim to continue supporting the new scholar each year until she is 18-years-old and ready for college, so I am truly grateful for support in any amount.
She’s the First allowed me to create this special – completely free – Crowdrise fundraising page just for my birthday! I am aiming modestly for the tuition amount of $400, but if more is raised, we can select two scholars and/or the $1400 “Champion” option, with which we can take turns writing our scholar letters! Any and all money raised will go directly toward an STF scholarship.
One last amaaazing thing: several of my former students at Shanti Bhavan will be featured in an upcoming Netflix series called “Daughters of Destiny”. Award-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth, followed the lives of my students for over a decade, and on July 28th you can watch the premier and then weekly, the development of their heartbreaking, morally challenging and heartwarming stories all in one! In the face of seemingly insurmountable trials, with their personal hard work and the help of their school (and loads of donations of course), they - spoiler alert - will prevail. If you are also interested in considering the most effective types of philanthropy, and the challenges posed by cultural differences between the "West" and the "non-West" like I am, I project that the series will have an interesting angle on this as well. In addition to being the daughter of the screenwriter for Forrest Gump, Vanessar Roth is a spectactular filmmaker in her own right.
Check out the trailer here:
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my special birthday (if a bit long-winded) request. I miss you all dearly. For those terribly disappointed that I’m not making you come to a birthday party this year, I promise I will have one next year. :)