Sixteen-year-old Priyanka Patil bubbles over with enthusiasm as she talks about her impending departure to Italy to pursue her college education at UWC Adriatic this fall."I'm thinking of taking up History, Philosophy, English, Biology, Math and even Italian!" she says with the brightest of smiles"
A student of Epiphany High School, Priyanka comes from a low-income community in Pune and has been brought up by a single mother, as her father has been in prison for quite some time. Having been a regular part of various street plays and theatre performances in school, Priyanka got noticed by Ahona Krishna - a 2011-13 Teach For India Fellow at Epiphany - who immediately requested that she audition for the upcoming Teach For India Maya Musical - a partnership between Teach For India students and Broadway artists.
"The Maya Musical is an original script with Broadway-composed music and tells the story of Princess Maya's journey," explains Sanaya Bharucha, Co-Director - Maya & TFI Fellow 2009-11, "tasked to bring light back into her kingdom, Maya and her friends (South Indian dragoness Kutti, the talking peacock Indigo, the mystical spinning Zara and the nine-headed snake Ska) use the values of courage, compassion and wisdom to lift three great curses that have been cast on the world."
Teach For India envisioned the Maya Musical to be much more than a spectacular show. It was imagined to be a demonstration of what's possible for low-income children with no previous exposure to the arts to achieve - a symbol of the kind of education all children deserve that integrates academics, values and mindsets, and exposure and access. And so, Priyanka was chosen to play the role of 'Ska' even though she wasn't a Teach For India student.
"The character of Ska had a lot of songs and singing was my biggest weakness. But all the 'Didis' and 'Bhaiyas' at Teach For India helped me let go of my fears!" reminisces Priyanka, "the Maya experience taught me that one should never be scared to try something new irrespective of what others might think. I also started to comprehend the complexity of human nature and how it's perceived - Ska's character was one that came across as evil on the face of it, but you realize there was so much more to the character if you looked deeper. I now understand that circumstances sometimes make people behave out of character and I've stopped judging people on outer appearances. Maya also helped me accept that we can be whoever we want to be."
So how did UWC happen? "The emotion underlying that statement is almost palpable." "It was Nick Bhaiya's (Nick Dalton - Broadway Actor and Co-Director - Maya Musical) idea for me to apply to UWC. I never took it seriously, but he kept pushing me to check it out and apply. Then I came to know that UWC had approached TFI to get some their students to apply. I looked up the website, got all the information and started the application process with full energy and passion! 120 kids from India were shortlisted from the initial application process and asked to come to the UWC Pune campus for the selection process. There was a GD round, an object presentation - where I made a presentation on my diary in which I write my poems and finally a problem-solving group activity. I came to know I was selected to join UWC Adriatic in Italy in April this year - can't believe I'm already a step closer to my dreams!"
Priyanka attributes a large part of her success to Sanaya and Sushanth Nambiar (TFI Fellow 2014-16) - her mentors throughout the application process. "When I first met Priyanka, she was shy and unable to speak her mind or share what she thought - especially about things that were important to her. At the same time, she was also responsible, eager to learn and very special. Over the last two years, I have seen Priyanka grow from a slightly insecure child into a compassionate, courageous and wise young woman. Today, she is able to speak her mind freely, question the status quo and be an agent of change in her school, family, and community. She has grown to feel a lot of ownership over the success and well-being of others and actively drives towards this. She has evolved into an independent, reliable, fun loving and deeply reflective person who I truly believe can change the world!" says a proud Sanaya.
For now, Priyanka has her sights set on becoming a psychologist. But her long-term goal involves working for other kids just like her."I'd like to work with the prostitute community - do something that would help the kids in those communities realize their dream - just like I did."
Hope you fly high Priyanka - and hope we see many more Priyankas fearlessly reaching for their horizons!
Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply now at http://apply.teachforindia.org/user/register
Watch the new Teach For India creative celebrating an excellent education for All children at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta9e9SuCqTs
Written By Alankrita Khera - Manager, Communications - Teach For India