Twenty-year-old, former sponsored child Sneha is a first-generation college graduate who lives with her parents, two brothers, and grandfather in a rented house in Mumbai. Her father, Umashankar, is the breadwinner of the family and has a small business repairing telephones and cameras, and her mother Sangeeta is a homemaker.
From being a shy and quiet girl, Sneha is now a go-getter with a commanding voice and an endearing personality. She is quick to engage in conversation and not afraid of voicing her opinions or tackling challenges that get in her way. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology in 2021, Sneha has recently joined the workforce in a reputed software company.
According to recent research, the number of women studying Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects has increased over the years. Interestingly, women make up nearly 43 per cent of the total graduates in STEM in India – one of the highest in the world – but their share in STEM jobs is barely 14 per cent, reports The Print.
By taking up a career in STEM, which is traditionally male-dominated, Sneha is breaking several barriers that girls in her hometown of Uttar Pradesh can only dream of; including pushing off marriage until she can stand on her own feet.
She tells us, ‘’In my family, no one has studied this much. My mom thought studying up to the 10th grade was more than enough, however, my dad was the opposite. Since he studied up to the 12th grade, he wanted me to study further,’’ says Sneha.
She continues, ‘’If my dad had not encouraged me, then I don’t think I would be where I am today. I have seen parents discriminate between their children by sending their boys to private English medium schools, whereas their girls go to government-run schools. But my father never did this. Sometimes people ask him why he spends so much on his daughter’s education. But to him, we’re all equal.’’
Although Sneha didn’t face discrimination at home, she did feel the lack of good role models for children in her community. Nevertheless, her father became her biggest cheerleader and someone who she could look up to.
Things started to look up in her community in Mumbai after World Vision India started working there in the year 2009. She was eight when her name was enrolled in the child sponsorship program.
Sneha recalls the time a WV staff member came to her school to talk about child sponsorship, and she excitedly went home to tell her mother.
‘’I was very young then and didn’t know a lot about World Vision. My mother later told me that I was already sponsored and also told me about the things that had been coming for me through my sponsor. She also told me how she would attend programs with other women,’’ says Sneha.
Over the years, Sneha participated in several programs organised by World Vision India, which gave her information that she didn’t otherwise get in school. She learnt to protect herself through self-defence classes and personal safety education and became aware of her rights as a child. She especially loved the Life School for Transformation Development (LSTD) programs, where she would meet many children and have a lot of fun.
Additionally, Sneha and other children in her community would also get education supplies. This not only encouraged them to go to school but also helped reduce the burden of education on their parents. ‘’I remember getting notebooks and stationery every six months, so my parents didn’t have to buy anything. These small things were very helpful for us,’’ says Sneha.
It was, however, the career guidance sessions that she attended in the 8th and 9th grades which played a big role in how she chartered the course of her academic and professional life.
‘’I remember Robin sir (staff member of World Vision India) gathered all the children and gave us a lot of information about different careers. He asked us what we want to do in the future and showed us possible routes we could take up. He also told us to take subjects that we have an interest in and not because of peer pressure. Robin sir even motivated me to make presentations and speak up in other sessions,’’ says Sneha.
That was the first time Sneha started envisioning her future. She says, ‘’After those sessions, I wanted to become a doctor, but unfortunately the fees were too high and I knew my parents could not afford it. But that didn’t stop me from taking up science in 11th and 12th grade.’’
Through sheer grit and hard work, Sneha persevered through the challenges of student life. In the 12th grade when her family was facing some financial challenges, she started taking maths and science tuition for children in her community. The money she earned went to a few household expenses as well as catered to her personal needs. Soon she got used to studying and working on the side and continues to do so even today.
In 2020, when the world went into lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sneha was in her second year of college. At that time, World Vision India supported families twice with dry ration and cash transfers of Rs. 4000 each time. Sneha used this money (Rs. 8000 in total) to pay off her college fees. Since her father’s work had stopped, the money and ration came at a crucial time for her family.
Being a student herself, Sneha understood the challenges children were facing during the pandemic, and hence took two sessions on stress management and decision-making at an LSET (Life skills education transformation) program conducted by World Vision India in her community at a later date.
After graduating in 2021, Sneha did a few additional certificate courses on Artificial Intelligence, Internet of things, Java, Python, Input/Output and Network Hardware to update her skills.
For most students who graduated amid the pandemic, the process of job hunting became even more challenging. Sneha gave many interviews before finally landing a job with Wipro as a Control and Monitoring consultant in 2021. Being a part of systems engineering, her job involves testing, analysing errors and resolving issues in her project. Presently she works from home, but is part of a big team and is happy to have a supportive manager.
As the next step in her educational journey, Sneha signed up for a Master’s in Technology (M.Tech) through Wipro’s Work-integrated learning program which enables her to get a degree whilst working. Although a full-time M.Tech course can be completed in two years, the one through WIPRO will take her four years. However, Sneha is excited about this opportunity as she believes it will give her both theoretical knowledge as well as work experience.
Confident that she can prove her mettle, Sneha wants to eventually move into software development. She works hard in her current role so that she can get more projects to advance to the next level. Since the IT sector is very dynamic she realises that she has to keep upskilling.
She tells us, ‘’Nowadays everyone knows how to code. But the challenge begins when you have to apply it or use it in your project. I want to be able to do this. I have done many certified courses where they teach you theory. But only when you practice and do things on your own will you learn the errors and how you can fix them,’’ says Sneha animatedly.
Hoping that her decision to pursue a career in information technology pays off, Sneha visualises a time when she becomes a manager and leads a team. Being the oldest in her family and a trendsetter of sorts for girls in her community, she is very mindful of her actions.
She says, ‘’There are so many children who look up to me, like my brothers, cousins, students and neighbours. They are observing how I navigate my career. In the same way, if I do something wrong, they too will be influenced. So I try to be a good role model for them.’’
While Sneha strives to break barriers that impede her future, she still has to overcome the gnawing pressure of getting married. For someone who has just started working, marriage is not at the top of her list. Her objective is to focus on her career so that she can accomplish her many dreams.
She tells us, ‘’Some people don’t understand the importance of a career. In their eyes, a girl is only successful after she gets married, settles down and has children. But that is not what I believe… At present, I am saving my money to buy a house for my parents. I want to move out of this place. I also want to ensure my younger brothers can study and then I’ll plan for other things,’’ says Sneha resolutely.
Sneha’s mother Sangeeta listens attentively to what Sneha says. She feels proud that her daughter has such ambitious goals and wants her to succeed. She says, ‘’Even in 10th grade her percentage was low, but she still wanted to take up science. She was stubborn, worked hard and proved everyone wrong. So now I do believe that whatever she has set her mind to, I am sure she will achieve it. I leave it up to God,’’ says Sangeeta encouragingly.
That said, the societal pressure to get Sneha married does weigh on Sangeeta’s mind. She assures Sneha that her wishes come from a good place. She says, ‘’As she is my child, I will always be concerned. But I pray that she works hard and that she too will be blessed with a good family. I also pray that she may be able to face whatever challenges come her way. That is all that we want as parents,’’ says Sangeeta.
Listening to her mother’s words, Sneha smiles. When we ask her what she wants she tells us, ‘’I have a lot of dreams. From a young age, my parents supported me. That is why I want to study further so that I can support them even more. I hope I find a partner who is equally supportive and also has that kind of vision,’’ says Sneha.
While most girls in Sneha’s community in Mumbai are studying, the same is not the case in her hometown. When asked if there’s any advice she could give girls or people in general, she says.
‘’My message to girls is, don’t sacrifice your dreams for others, please study! In my village, girls only dream of getting married when they turn 16 or 17. What is the need for studying they ask? I don’t blame them for this thinking, because from a young age they are taught these things. Indian society must change. We need to stop telling girls that their aim in life is to get married. Instead, we must help them study,’’ says Sneha earnestly.
For youngsters like Sneha, the sky is the limit. When given the right support at the right time not only from their parents but also from society as a whole, children can excel. However, access to education is what she hopes every child in her community and country can enjoy. Sneha appeals to World Vision, to continue programs for children that focus on higher education because that’s where children are left behind.
She says, ‘’I just want every child to study and achieve their goals. In this day and age, education is very important. I hope every child can access higher studies. This is after all the 21st century, and there shouldn’t be any illiteracy in our generation,’’ says Sneha determinedly.
In the previous year, 12 children from Sneha’s community in Ghatkopar ADP who were on the verge of quitting school because of financial difficulties, were supported with higher education fees. These children are now continuing their education and will hopefully be in a better position to support their families in the future.
Thus with the backing of donors and those investing in the lives of children in World Vision India’s communities, even the smallest contribution helps a child and their family achieve many milestones, whether in education, nutrition, livelihood or general wellbeing.
Sneha agrees wholeheartedly. She says in conclusion, ‘’Nowadays everything runs on money, so I am very thankful to those who give. I thank them for the love and kindness with which they donate… I hope I too can sponsor a child someday,” says Sneha with a smile.