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It’s 92 and not out!!
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Imagine if you or your child had scored 1174/1200 in your 12th standard board exams. What would you have done to celebrate the occasion? I would have celebrated my happiness for the rest of my life in a very big way. Parties will be conducted, social media will be filled with our achievements, congratulatory messages and gifts will keep coming and the list goes on. I had met this candidate named Uma (Name Changed) who had scored 1174 in her 12th standard exams and had applied to Maatram Foundation for educational assistance. She wanted to pursue Engineering and had come for a face-to-face interview. After the initial few minutes of breaking the ice and chatting, I asked her, “So, how did it feel when you got the first place in school and scored such high marks?” She smiled and said, “I didn’t feel anything sir.” Surprised, I asked her again, “What do you mean when you say you felt nothing? I am sure folks back home would have felt extremely happy and proud of you. What did they say?” She paused for a while and then said, “I don’t have anyone back home sir. My father passed away in a road accident when I was in the 3rd standard and my mother passed away when I was in Class 6. I don’t have any siblings and I was the only child in my family. I studied in a school which had some basic hostel facility and my relatives and well-wishers were kind enough to pay my fees till the 12th standard. The day I got my results, there was no one at home to share the news.” She said all this at one stretch without showing any emotions. I consider myself to be a pretty strong guy, but it was difficult controlling the tears.  I had to act as if some dust particle had fallen in my eyes in front of this kid. The time that I spent with her was so inspiring and felt like the interview was more for me. Her single-minded focus was only to do well in whatever she does. She was very mature for her age, probably because of the hardship she had to go through. I asked her, “Where do you want to study?” and she responded “Put me anywhere sir, I will adjust and study. The college doesn’t matter.” Frankly, if we had an option, both my wife and I would have adopted her for she was so sincere, honest and adorable. I just couldn’t take my eyes of this kid and spoke to her several times in the last two weeks. We kept talking about her to my son who was also volunteering at the venue and we could see the impact she had on my son. I allocated her a college in Coimbatore but then decided that we should keep her in Chennai. Uma will now pursue Engineering, specializing in Electronics and Communication Engineering from one of the top universities in Chennai. To me, it was a personal high when I signed up as her local guardian. I shared her story on my FB wall and it went viral; over 21000 likes, people from unknown quarters extending help and looking at her story, more than 5 new colleges volunteered to give us free seats for the coming academic year.

If Uma was a high scoring candidate, Sukumar (name changed) had the lowest cut off amongst all students whom we admitted through our Foundation this year. He was interviewed not once, but thrice, by three different panels comprising of mostly HR folks from different companies who are part of our Foundation. In all the interviews, he did not get rejected and the panel felt that there was something very honest about this kid and wanted to give him a chance. Hence, I met him for the final round. Sukumar was a very soft spoken boy and after getting the necessary details, I asked him the obvious question as to why his marks were low and explained how we only take up students with a good academic record. He was silent for a long time and his mother sitting next to him started crying. He slowly touched his mother, indicating not to cry and spoke in a feeble voice “Sir, I was not allowed to attend class inside my classroom for the entire duration of my 12th standard except on very few occasions” I was shocked to hear this and asked the obvious question, “But why would someone do that?” After a few seconds of silence, he said, “Sir, that’s because my mother was unable to pay my school fees.” Now there was complete silence from my end and I didn’t know how to react. There was so much anger in me against the school and at that very moment, I thought about how parents react when their kids get treated badly in school. I sat there and was wondering what this mother would have gone through for one full year, knowing fully well that her son was made to stand outside the class every day. The beauty is that this boy never complained for he was fully aware of his mother’s condition and her inability to pay the fees. I decided that we should admit him and when checking the documents noticed that his Transfer Certificate was missing and asked him for the certificate. This time the mother responds “Sir, the certificate is still with the school as we have Rs. 7500 pending which needs to be paid as part of the fees.” That was the last nail in the coffin and we decided that this kid should be our first admission. Sukumar wants to fly high and wanted to pursue Aeronautical Engineering. He is now on his way to fulfill his dream. He need not stand outside the class anymore and will be treated with utmost respect, care and affection.

We received a request of a girl who had scored close to 80% in her 12th board exams, which was a very unique candidature. Anusha (name changed) had scored 964/1200 which is pretty normal by any standards given the fact that kids these days score very high marks, but her story is very different. Five years ago, Anusha’s sister’s marriage was finalized and on the day of the wedding, her sister eloped with another man. In typical movie style, the relatives noticed that the girl went missing and considered it to be a big insult to the family but what happened next will leave you dumbstruck. Anusha was in Class 10 and was 15 years old. The family decided to get her married in the place of her older sister. She was married to a man who was close to 40 years of age. Anusha now has a baby girl aged 4 and in the last few years, decided that her life can’t be restricted in that village and wanted to do well for herself and the kid. She fought all odds, against family customs, convinced her family to pursue her education, gave her 12th board exams and scored 80%. She dreamt of pursuing Engineering specializing in Computer Science but then didn’t have the resources to fund her studies. That’s when she was referred to the Maatram Foundation. Speaking to her, I realized how focused she is on her future plans. She tells me, “Sir, put me in a college where there will be good campus placements. I want to work for large IT Companies and go abroad. My daughter should have a good life.” I asked her if I should get her admitted somewhere closer to her home town and she quickly responds, “Sir, please don’t do that. I want to stay away from all distractions. I will stay in a hostel and will visit my baby once a month. My mother and in-laws will take care of my kid.” Personally, I had never seen anyone more determined than this young mother who only wants to succeed in life. She will join a BE Computer Science course in a reputed institution in Chennai.

These are just 3 incidents to talk about the kind of people whom we admitted this year.  We managed to place 92 such students in total for this academic year in different Engineering colleges. Out of the 92 admissions, 7 of them don’t have parents, a whopping 80% are first generation students and more importantly, close to 17 of them came through references. Each one of their stories will teach you how hard these kids have fought to reach here and also make us realize how blessed we are. When I named my foundation Maatram (meaning Change), the idea was to bring about a small change in the lives of others but I never realized that every single meeting will change my perspective towards life.