One of the really interesting things about my job is the way people just pop in my office to tell me extraordinary stories. Take the day Rajesh Kumar showed up to talk about his school.
Kumar was born in India into a poor family. How poor? He was the first person in his family to read – ever. Today, he is an engineer working for Verizon Wireless. How do you get from dirt poor to working for one of the most cutting-edge telecom companies in the world?
It is an amazing story, even a miraculous story. Modern India has officially banned the caste system, but the reality is it still continues. That meant Kumar grew up marked down as a laborer for life and as a 6-year-old carried bricks for 30 cents a day.
“No one in my family could read or write,” he said. “But I got a chance to go to school. Many teachers barely show up for class at all. But one teacher saw something in me and took an interest.”
And so it was that a small boy got a break and began to learn. Later this teacher got him into another higher school where he won a scholarship to a university where he earned an engineering degree.
He first went to work for Lucent Technologies and went to Germany. Today, he works for Verizon Wireless. But he came to me to talk about his dream. That is to build a series of schools that would really serve young students in the poorer areas of India.
“Look what an opportunity I had. One man took an interest in me, and it meant everything to me. Imagine what it would mean for a whole school of Kumars,” he said.
So he and some like-minded expatriate Indians are building that school through the nonprofit Takshila Education (www.takshilaeducation.org). They are making videos that will allow them to teach via the Internet.
At the same time, Kumar and his friends want to do something to pay back this country for what it has given them. So they are mentoring students here. The same videos in math and science can be used to help students here in Fulton County and in Richmond County.
“Just one dropout loses $24,000 in earning capacity. Then that person is more likely to end up on social services like Medicare, or worse, in jail,” he said. “A high school graduate will earn 76 percent more than the dropout. That is what we try to teach them.”
The University of Georgia is contributing to that project. The Indian-American volunteers are mostly retired engineers, but they want to give back to the community, Kumar said.
They are also working on apps that will allow students to view their videos on smartphones. The series will be grade appropriate for their use.
All this is because of the opportunity one man showed one boy many years ago. Now that is being multiplied a thousand fold because of the opportunities afforded Kumar and his friends.
Is this a great country or what?
This article appeared in the July 4 edition of the Johns Creek Herald.