“In India, we visited the Charan Cud slum, and our hearts were just ripped in half. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. We all wished there was a way we could help these beautiful children.”
Name: Jess Morton
Hometown: Milwaukee, WI
Education: Whitefish Bay High School
Passions and Interests: Volunteers at children’s hospital twice a week outside of school. Serves as assistant coach to the sprinters on school’s track team.
Transformational Experience: India: Service in the Himalayas
Making an Impact: One of the game-changing GLA alumni behind Kunal’s Tong Len Scholarship Fund
Most high school students in the United States have some general awareness that educational opportunities for children in India are often not the same as back home. The difference is that so few American students see this divide firsthand. So when Jess Morton arrived in India as part of GLA’s India: Service in the Himalayas program and witnessed where many local children go to school, it changed her entire perspective.
After we saw the makeshift school [in the Charan Cud slum], I knew that I had taken my schooling for granted.”
That day, the learning didn’t stop there.
Right after visiting the school in Charan Cud, Jess and the rest of her group went to a school that couldn’t have been more different than the one they had just seen. As they stepped out of the car, each of the GLA students couldn’t believe how beautiful the Tong Len school was, and they were floored after having the chance to tour its grounds. Jess, however, was even more taken aback by how Tong Len didn’t have the resources to accept all the students it wanted to.
After hearing about all the good Tong-Len does, we knew we wanted to do something to help them. And when they told us they didn’t have enough funds to bring new kids in, that’s when we knew. We wanted to send a child to school.”
Following their visit to Charan Cud and Tong-Len, GLA India’s International Director Elise gathered all of the students together to discuss what they had seen, and to begin processing it. The conversation started, strangely enough, about how social media influenced western perspectives on India. At first this seemed unrelated, but the more the students dove into this topic, the more they realized that social media didn’t always present an honest depiction of India. And for American students not aware of the challenges facing many Indian children seeking an education, this filter had prevented them from taking action.
Elise encouraged the students to take a “sit” day and discuss openly not only how each of them perceives India based on social media, but also how could they could change that.
Jess, in her reflections, had a realization during their discussion:
We started talking about school. I, like most teenagers, complain about going to school weekly. After seeing the makeshift school in the Charan Cud slum, and learning that most of these kids won’t get above a 2nd grade education, I really had to stop and think – think about how much I took my very prestigious school for granted. These children might not even have the chance to go to school. So with the mindset that we wanted to change how people saw India over social media and wanting to send someone to school, The GLA Tong-Len Scholarship was created.”
In collaboration with the Tong Len school, a local student – Kunal – was selected. Here’s a photo of Kunal:
Kunal just started school at Tong Len in April 2016. He’s 9 and he has a bright road ahead, so long as the funding to keep him in school is available.
Thanks to Jess and her fellow GLA alumni who pitched in, the scholarship fund has raised just over $8,000 of their $14,400 goal. And to put this in perspective, this amount is not just to cover one year in school. It’s to cover Kunal’s entire education at Tong Len.
As the scholarship’s Go Fund Me page attests to, “Schooling is expensive, but education is priceless. You can change Kunals life by donating today. $14,400 allows him a full 12 years of education at Tong Len hostel school. Tong Len provides an ideal environment for students to focus on their academics by eliminating the every day struggles that children in the slum face. Kunal will leave the slum and break the cycle of poverty.”
Here’s a video Jess’ fellow GLA India alum, Shari Coleman, created to explain the GLA program and scholarship:
When GLA asked Jess what readers could do if they wanted to help with their project, she had an array of creative ideas:
There is a bunch they can do. They could donate, help spread the word, or contact me and I can add them to the Facebook page where I post undates about Kunal. And if anyone has questions, they are more then welcome to email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask! To help spread the word, people can also send out emails with the Go Fund Me link and a brief paragraph [explaining it].”
After all of the help they’ve received so far, and through her optimism that they’ll reach the lofty scholarship goal they set out, Jess had a final thought on how a personal connection – real ties to another place and person – made it all possible:
We’re not just sending “someone” to school. We’re sending Kunal.”
Special shout-outs for making this scholarship happen:
The Tong Len School, Eden Roth, Max Bone, Shari Coleman and the rest of the GLA India team of staff & students
Program Jess attended:
GLA India: Service in the Himalayas
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