Uplift volunteers. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

Uplift Humanity India is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of juvenile inmates in South Asia. Its founding motto epitomizes the method by which it seeks to empower youth through hands-on education, mentoring, and technology training, writes Anish Patel.

Criminals are often created from children who have experienced gross neglect and poverty as children. They fall into the same habits, the same crimes, and the same people their surroundings provide them with. They are victims of recidivism. Uplift Humanity India is a non-profit organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of juvenile inmates in South Asia. Its founding motto epitomizes the method by which it seeks to empower youth through hands-on education, mentoring, and technology training. Uplift Humanity’s goal is to spread its specialized curriculum throughout the continent to give youth opportunities to flourish once they reenter society.

Volunteer Hursh Desai. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

Volunteer Hursh Desai. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

The foundations of Uplift Humanity had taken root in June 2010, as I was on my way through the streets of Vadodara, Gujarat. When my vehicle came to a halt at a traffic signal, I noticed an ominous redbrick building that was circumscribed by a tall, black fence and protected by two security guards. As I rolled down my window to speak to the street vendor who was looking to sell a secondhand copy of the Times of India, I questioned him about the decrepit building. To his dismay, the vendor simply remarked that it was a place for “kharab chokra (bad kids),” and informed that it was certainly no place an American boy should wander about, or even glance at for that matter. However, as I continued on my journey, the driver informed me that the building was a facility for what the government labeled “at-risk youth.”

The image of the rundown building was indelibly inked in my mind. The street vendor’s insinuation that the teenagers in the facility were substandard ironically served as my impetus to research the treatment of incarcerated youths in South Asia. After learning of the conditions of juvenile facilities in India, I came up with a solution: Uplift Humanity India, a non-profit organization that would educate at-risk youth through hands-on education. It was the mindset of that street vendor that struck me. Why label these kids as kharab chokra? Why not educate them to transform them into productive members of our society?

Volunteer Ravetee Parikh. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

Volunteer Ravetee Parikh. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

At age 16, I founded Uplift Humanity to connect at-risk youth in India with hands-on education.  As founder and CEO, my mission is two pronged: to provide education to underprivileged children in India but also to spread awareness for this nascent cause.

My work with Uplift Humanity has been recognized internationally by leading politicians like Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi to media such as The Wall Street Journal and The Times of India. In April 2015, I was featured in Vogue India’s list of 28 Under 28: Geniuses Who Are Winning Big in 2015. 

The Challenges: One of the greatest challenges our organization faces every day is working with Indian government officials. Seeking permission from local governments to operate is perhaps the most frustrating aspect of our job. One would think that local government officials would welcome us with open arms – since we’re providing free education to underprivileged youth who otherwise would not have any literacy skills.

Unfortunately, that’s not the mindset that many officials operate with. In other words, it becomes challenging to align our interests with those of local government officials and prove to them that lessons based on life skill development can help in decreasing juvenile recidivism rates, and that English and technology literacy can completely alter the lives of these very kids.

Volunteer Shreya Vaidya. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

Volunteer Shreya Vaidya. (Tapan Parikh Photography)

While our mission is to educate juveniles in India, this challenge has enabled us to expand our mission to change the mindsets of local individuals who may not understand the value of education in a child’s life. Whether it’s a teenager in America or a government official in a local town in Gujarat, our mission is to ensure that everyone understands the power of education.

Through various programs, Uplift Humanity India seeks to aid juvenile development, instill ambition and provide these children with the resources to materialize their ambitions. One such way is Uplift Humanity’s summer rehabilitation program through which the organization takes hundreds of volunteer students from the United States to one of the four rehabilitation facilities in India. Volunteers teach orphans and juveniles life skills such as moral decision-making, self-esteem development, self-maintenance, daily etiquette and public speaking. Most importantly, we work to build close relationships with the juveniles and show them we care, something these juveniles are not accustomed to.

After successfully running the summer program, Uplift Humanity launched a Continuation Program that makes a larger impact by educating juveniles and orphans throughout the entire year by providing English and technology literacy through local volunteers. The continuity program is perhaps the most crucial element of the on-site work at juvenile centers.

As a part of the program, local Indian educators make weekly visits to the juvenile facilities, in order to administer lessons on a year round basis. The continuity program provides UH with a year-long period of evaluation of the juvenile class, allowing making more informed decisions about scholarship grants and educational sponsorships for program graduates. In fact, each year, Uplift Humanity awards those juveniles who have transformed the most with scholarships totaling over Rs.150,000 ($2,500) across all of its locations.

Uplift Humanity has finally begun to see results. Juveniles who have been released from facilities are now entering schools for further education, joining family businesses, and even working at local stores and companies. It’s these very success stories that drive our organization. Observing these juveniles transform and change before our eyes into active members of society fuels our passion to continue doing the work we do.

We’re always looking for talented individuals to help us in our mission. If you’re interested in working for us or volunteering, visit our website at www.uplifthumanityindia.org and Facebook page at www.facebook.com/uplifthumanity. You can email us at joinus@uplifthumanityindia.org.