Upasana Ravikannan, who has cerebral palsy, raises funds for initiatives that support these children
While on a visit to a government school as part of a field project, Upasana Ravikannan developed a first-hand understanding of the inequality in education.
Two years later, she started a social initiative, GoPaadhai, which works around the objective of reaching educational resources to schools.
Eighteen-year-old Upasana, who has cerebral palsy and is wheelchair bound, sees that her initiative is all set to take wider wings.
She is among the 19 changemakers selected from 12 states for the second edition of the Ashoka Young Changemakers, a year-long programme that would equip her with the knowledge and perspective to find solutions to many other global challenges.
“I was in Class IX and as part of Karthavyam, a diploma in public problem-solving initiative at HLC International, we went on a field visit to a government school. It was aimed at helping us understand the different challenges out there. The classrooms at the government school were as big as mine, but they were absolutely lacking in amenities,” says Upasana, who has brought out a storybook on waste management and mobilising people to solve the problem, again as part of Karthavyam.
The most poignant moment arrived when Upasana noticed that a group of children had left a puzzle incomplete on the floor. When she quizzed them about it, she was informed that many pieces were missing, and they would never be able to complete that puzzle.
It was heartbreaking for Upasana to see children deprived of basic learning material. “The images of the school, children and my interactions never left me, and I used to discuss it with my music teacher, Seethalakshmi ma’am, who broadened my horizons and nudged me to do something about it,” says Upasana.
Through the music teacher, she got to know Kanavu, an organisation that works with the ASSEFA Foundation in Kannaiarpet, Cuddalore.
Upasana then turned to her gated community in Siruseri that helped her put her dreams into action.
“I got permission to organise a road show to raise funds for Kanavu. I choose the Christmas get-together at the society to launch it. I even gave a talk at the event,” says Upasana, a resident of L&T Eden Park.
That is the beginning of GoPaadhai’s journey.
“We raised ₹15000 toward supporting a teacher training programme,” she says.
Soon, her friends chipped in with their support. Arjun Mohan, for instance, who lives at Pelican Nest, a gated community in Thoraipakkam, volunteered to take the lead in another fundraising initiative for Kanavu. This time, they were looking for stationery and storybooks too. Here, they collected over ₹11000. Many other friends went door-to-door to raise funds.
During the lockdown, Upasana received a request from InkLink Charitable Trust, which works with the underprivileged from Kannagi Nagar to raise funds to buy data cards so that the children could attend classes online.
GoPaadhai volunteers again turned to their respective communities for donations; and now, the army of volunteers had increased.
“In 2018, I had 10 friends helping me raise funds. The next year, it increased to 15 and now I have more than 20 people as volunteers, and some of them are grown-ups,” says Upasana.
Deepa Som from L&T Eden Park is among those who helped mobilise support for her campaign among residents of the community.
They raised approximately ₹20,000. Upasana and her friends are now working towards building resources for a school in Ramanathapuram.
Currently in a gap year, Upasana is spending the time at her disposal to volunteer at her alma mater, where she facilitates classes for grade 1 and 2 students in Mathematics and English. “HLC International has played an important role in my daughter’s journey to become independent, emphatic and embrace an inclusive environment,” says her mother Aparna Ravikannan.
Later, in July, Upasana will be enrolling for a bachelors programme in psychology at Ashoka University.