A Chevening scholar’s humble journey from a small Indian village to London

Meet Dhananjay Kumar, a first-generation learner. He completed his Schooling from Gyan Niketan, Patna & Chail Military School, Shimla hills and completed his class 12th from Saraswati Vidya Mandir, Patna.

Thereafter, he acquired a degree in Industrial and Production Engineering from Manipal Institute of Technology in Karnataka. He went on to work with MNCs and corporations like TCS and Paradigm Leather Accessories Pvt.Ltd. He also worked as a consultant in the MSME sector and worked in the developmental sector specializing in sanitation, water and education.

Now, he has been awarded the coveted Chevening Scholarship with admission offers from esteemed colleges, including King’s College London, University College London, Imperial College London and five other universities across the world. He is all set to pursue a master’s degree in Public Policy from King’s College London on a full scholarship.

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Humble beginnings, solid foundation

Mr Kumar belongs to a humble background. His parents understand the importance of good education and provided him with opportunities to receive the best quality education.

“I give full credit to my father. He gave the best education to all his children and in doing so he overcame several challenges.”

“Apart from my father, I want to attribute my success to Mr Anil Moti, his support & mentorship, and Ms Shireen Moti for her belief in me and thanks to all my friends who supported me immensely in my work.”

We sat with Dhananjay and spoke about his journey so far, failures, successes and future plans:

TVM: Congratulations on Chevening Scholarship! You are among the very few Indians selected for this esteemed scholarship. How do you feel about it? How to approach the Chevening Scholarship Application form? 

I am happy to be a Chevening Scholar and I am looking forward to studying at King’s College, London. It is important for me because this scholarship allows me to pursue a Master’s degree in one of the UK’s most prestigious universities. Actually, I have had a lot of people come up to me asking about how to approach the scholarship application form. I have published an article on tips to write the application form for Chevening.

The article is available here:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/how-approach-chevening-scholarship-essays-dhananjay-kumar/

TVMYou worked extensively in rural areas. Where did the inspiration come from? Why choose these areas- Sanitation and Education?

I visited my village in 2013 and I was disturbed by the continued practice of open defecation and the poor state of education in my village and in the nearby areas. The nuisance of open defecation is not new to India, especially in rural areas. It has been an accepted way of life for ages despite the health hazard it poses.

India has more instances of open defecation than any other nation in the world, with one out of two people choosing to defecate in open fields, on the railway tracks, or even on the roadside. What’s worse is the outcomes, over two lakh children die from diseases caused by faecal contamination every year. That’s not all, nearly 300 million women are forced to wake up before sunrise and defecate in the open. Seeing these disturbing facts I decided to quit my job and started working in the area of Sanitation and Education. I brought many NGOs who were working on similar issues together to avoid repetition of resources and work effectively in the areas of Sanitation and Education.

We implemented “ODFI” model in villages to eliminate open defecation and became a part of “Swatch Bharat Mission” to make our country open defecation free. In the first phase of the work, our focus was on the construction of toilets while in the second phase the focus was more on creating awareness regarding the usage of toilets. Through our studies and our work on the grassroots, we have found that mere construction of toilet is not equal to usage of toilets. We found that toilets were being used as a kitchen, storage room or keep their cattle.

Therefore, we worked on educating people about usage of toilets by community-led total sanitation approach, spreading awareness regarding various diseases occurring to their children because of open defecation, how poor sanitation affect their children studies and by involving the village panchayats in our campaign we were able to achieve open defecation free status to many villages in Bihar, Delhi and Haryana.

TVM: You worked in the Education sector for a long period. Tell me about your work in this area?

Education is very dear to me. My father used to tell me continuously “Education is the only mean to come out from poverty” and I totally believe in this statement. I was compelled to drop out of school on two occasions, owing to extreme poverty. I completed my schooling mostly on scholarships and under graduation studies with the help of a loan.

Learning from my own experience and after working extensively on the grassroots, I found most of the children drop out from primary school because of extreme poverty, children were not able to complete homework, lack of teacher training and their casteist remarks in the classroom discourage the student resulting into the dropout. In the case of girls, school at distance and lack of women teacher in school result in dropping out of school.

After class 9th and 10th most of the children dropout from the school. There is a different reason for it. First, they develop this feeling that they don’t know “what to do?” after class 10th. Second, the children believe that they do not have the financial resources in order to afford IIT/Medical/CLAT coaching. Third, at this age, they find that most of the other peer group starts earning resulting in negative role modelling and dropping out of school.

Under Jyoti Youth Foundation, I along with Sanjeev sir started working in the area of education. We developed our own model of creating mentors, counselling, creating awareness regarding various scholarships, negotiating with various private coaching institutes to reserve a seat for economically weaker students for free or at a nominal fee. In this way, we created more than 200 mentors who currently guide more than 388 students in most backward districts of the country.

In addition, I have entered into collaborations with NGOs and Private coaching institutes for civil service exam and teach, mentor those economically weaker students who cannot afford the high coaching fee. I feel every student from any background has right over quality training/education to get into prestigious IITs/Medical/Law schools to become Bureaucrats. I want to be a part of their dream to give the helping hand to support them in achieving their dream

TVM: How will the Chevening Scholarship be instrumental in your area of interest?

I believe open defecation in India still exists and dropout rate from schools is high even when the intervention to combat this menace started soon after independence. One of the major reasons is policy failure. There is a lack of expertise in our country regarding policy formulation to policy implementation.

Chevening Scholarship has provided me with the opportunity to study Public policy in the UK’s prestigious university. This scholarship will not only allow me to develop an in-depth and interdisciplinary understanding of policies in my chosen field of ‘Sanitation and Education’. The access and opportunity to interact with like-minded scholars working on similar issues in various parts of the world is of immense value to me. It is helping me in terms of discussion, dialogue, debate, best practices, initiative, resources, ideas and collaboration.

TVM: You are an inspiration to millions of young Indians who make multiple attempts in the pursuit of a career and a better life. What message would you like to give to the youth of India?

I have one message to the youth of India, irrespective of their backgrounds. Every individual is a genius in himself or herself and one needs to identify his or her strength and work in that direction. I believe that one can overcome the challenges with determination, hard work, passion and commitment in order to achieve one’s goals.  It is my sincere request to the youth in India to have empathy towards others in society. We are in dire need of social entrepreneurs who are able to innovate and solve problems in society which would bring prosperity to our nation. Innovation is the key to development. Every individual should educate themselves, share their knowledge and mentor children from marginalized sections of the society.

TVM: What is your future goal?

After the completion of my Postgraduate studies, my focus would be to use my training in Public Policy at King’s College London and exposure to the culture of UK to contribute to the public policy debates, reform and processes, on significant issues in India and across the world.

You can reach Dhananjay at dhananjay3166@gmail.com for any questions.

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About Surabhi Pandey 288 Articles
A former TV Presenter at Doordarshan Delhi​, Surabhi is the author of 'Nascent Wings' and 'Saturated Agitation'. She is a freelance journalist focused on Lifestyle and Social commentaries. She has been writing in this space for six years. Her work has appeared in numerous media outlets, including the Times of India, YP SG, Lifestyle Collective, Youth Ki Awaaz and Re:ad Poetry among others. She also writes Tech articles that have appeared on Tech Collective, Kr Asia, SBO.SG, SYNC PR, Entrepreneur and e27. She is the founder of The Vent Machine.

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