She is just 22 years old, but she has already traversed the challenges of being a teacher to 36 sixth graders from low-income communities, a friend to their parents and families and now a mentor to a group of Teach For India Fellows as their Program Manager. Angeline Dias, or "Angie" as she is lovingly called, reflects a depth of wisdom that belies her years, along with a tenacity to explore even the seemingly impossible.
Angie was born and brought up in Mumbai in an area called Parksite -- a small community of about 20-30 apartments together in a chawl system in Vikhroli. When she was in 10th grade, back in 2009, Teach For India had just begun operations in Mumbai. Her brother came home from college and showed her an ad in the newspaper about the TFI Fellowship program.
"I was sold on the idea of working towards educational equity right then and there," she says. "The reason was simple -- I came from a low-income community myself and so understood the problems that the lack of a quality education poses for children. I wanted to be able to do something about this need gap."
"She took on the role of teacher, parent and friend all at the same time and worked relentlessly to bring hope into her children's lives and place them on better life paths."
A few years later, during her BA final year at Xavier's College in Mumbai, Angie overheard some friends animatedly discussing the TFI college career seminar they'd just attended. That's when she knew her moment had come.
Angie was selected to be a part of Teach For India's cohort of 2013-15. "We started with five-week intensive training module called ''Institute'' and then moved into our respective assigned cities, schools and classrooms. I remember entering Institute thinking I couldn't be better prepared to take this head on but just a few days into the module, I realized that I literally knew nothing!" she reminisces with a smile.
Though Angie and her cohort continued with bi-weekly training sessions even after Institute concluded, the classroom became her biggest challenge. "My kids were too accustomed to the previous Fellow and I couldn't connect with them on that same level. It was a task trying to get them to listen to me. The frustration of it all took a toll on me. I remember crying almost every day after school! Then mid-year results came -- and I saw a marked rise in academic growth in my class. That's when it hit me -- my kids were willing to work hard even when I wasn't able to give them my 100%. I had no excuse to give up when they didn't! And if this is what I'd achieved with less than 100%, imagine what I could do if I strived to give them my 120% everyday!"
She brought her focus on values into her Teach for India classroom with a clear vision for her kids. In addition to academic goals, Angie focused on their life skills as well. She took on the role of teacher, parent and friend all at the same time and worked relentlessly to bring hope into her children's lives and place them on better life paths.
"When I was introduced to Atul, he was a sulky pre-pubescent kid, given to aggression as a defence against the teasing he had endured for his dark complexion. He was beating other kids just for kicks and it was next to impossible to get him to listen. Several individual conversations and class discussions on racism later, I made Atul have honest conversations with his classmates and at the same time suggested laughter as a solution to his anger outbursts. Today, he has become someone who cracks jokes even in the most difficult of situations. Then there was Aamir who suddenly started using foul language in class. A candid conversation with his friend revealed the peer pressure behind his behaviour. All sat him down and explained what the bad words that he was throwing around actually meant. Being the mature kid he really was inside, he realised that I wasn't going to judge and so opened his heart out to me -- something that helped me help him."
Along with working with her kids, Angie also started to go for community visits two months into her Fellowship. "The first few were really bad. Parents had some serious doubts on how a 20-year-old BA graduate could handle the responsibility of educating their kids! I realised that if the parents were not invested in their kids' education, the children wouldn't be either. And so to tackle the problem, I started to hang out with them after school -- a cup of tea, a casual conversation -- all this helped us understand each other better. I saw class attendance improve thanks to parents who became convinced of why going to school was important for their child."
As she approached the end of her Fellowship, Angie slowly learnt to believe -- in her kids, in herself and most of all in the vision that one day all children will attain an excellent education. Her kids became her biggest success. "I cannot describe how elated I felt when I heard of Injamul achieving merit in his scholarship exam and being government funded till graduation as a result! Or when Atul shared his vision for himself at a Teach For All conference as the student speaker!"
Today, as she manages 16 Fellows between the ages of 20 to 50 who're together impacting over 640 kids, Angie can't help but attribute her biggest learnings to her Fellowship experience. "The Fellowship experience has been mind-blowing -- all of us have emerged as leaders in some way because this journey was all about pushing us to give better than our best. I think people outside Teach For India perceive it to be a one-man mission -- it's almost as if the educational inequity is just a TFI problem and there comes a pat on the back every now and then. What many don't realise is that this is everyone's problem --a few people can't change the world but if everyone comes together, we'll be sure to make a difference!"
We all dream of bridging the educational gap and bring about systemic change to the state of education in India. Here's to visionaries like Angeline who're striving to make such dreams a reality!
Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply here.
Watch the new Teach For India creative celebrating an excellent education for all children here.
Written By Alankrita Khera, Manager, Communications, Teach For India