The last few years have been quite eventful for Robin Chaurasiya, former lieutenant in the US Army and co-founder of Kranti — a Mumbai-based NGO that empowers girls from the red-light areas.
From being evicted from their homes to spending the night in jail after being falsely accused of kidnapping a runaway child, a day out of the ordinary is what Robin is always prepared for. But when Stephen Hawking took to the stage to announce the Top 10 finalists of Global Teacher Prize 2016 on February 16, the 30-year-old was immensely shocked to hear her name called out third on the list.
Launched in 2014, the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize is “an annual $1 million award to an exceptional teacher who has made an outstanding contribution to the profession”.
“Freaking amazing,” exclaims Chaurasiya, who takes care of 18 girls between the ages of 12 and 21 years. “This year, 8,000 applicants from 140 countries were nominated and when I got an email informing that I made it to top 50, I was shocked.”
The final result is going to be announced in March and though $1 million is a staggering amount, Chaurasiya is certain about what she wants to do with her share.
“Presently, the girls live and study at Kranti, which is located in Santa Cruz. We want to start a school, where we can have more space for children from the red-light area,” says Chaurasiya.
Agents of change
Born in a family where she experienced domestic violence, Chaurasiya, who hails from Indore but was born and brought up in the US, was forced to leave the US Army in 2010 because of her sexual orientation. She then turned to teaching and started helping children and set up Kranti.
“Few years ago, one of the girls who came to us had only done few years of academics; she was 17 years at that time and in Class X. Every day she would come home crying; but she loved playing the drums, so we would bang on for hours,” she says.
As part of her daily teaching schedule, prominence was then given to music. Later on, two schools, in the US and UK, gave her full scholarships and she went on to study in Washington and is currently working in Pune.
The curriculum at Kranti includes creative thinking, yoga, meditation, writing, geography and music. This is followed by evening classes in English, theatre and health education.
As part of field experience, the girls are also taken out to watch movies, exhibitions and volunteer at different NGOs. The group has conducted workshops, delivered 11 TEDx talks around the world and have toured across the US staging a play about their experiences in the headquarters of Facebook and Google.
Every day is a challenge
“We were just joking about it the other day how I have been nominated for this $1 million prize, but I couldn’t afford to have coffee when I wanted to few days ago,” says Chaurasiya, who adds that the monthly expenses of Kranti are as high as `3 lakh.
“With roof over our heads that can be snatched away any moment, the girls are still very willing to adjust. Every day I sit down with 20 people, we eat and laugh together. Even though you might own every luxury in the world, it’s the time you spend laughing that determines how successful in life you are.”