Features Friday, June 26, 2015 - 05:30
Bhagya Sivaraman (without the mask) with children she used to work with. Crowd-funding has caught the public imagination in India in the last few years, with appeals for people or organisations that work for causes, medical interventions, and now even education. Twenty-four-year-old Bhagya Sivaraman has gotten the benevolent generosity of strangers to fund her education. In March, the Chennai-based woman learned that she had secured admission for a Masters course in Evidence Based Social Intervention at Oxford University. Bhagya had missed out on scholarships for the programme and taking a bank loan was not an option due to financial difficulties. Taking a friend's advice, she approached Indiegogo which approved her crowdfunding campaign to raise $50,000. This includes $35,000 for the tuition fee at Oxford, and accommodation in the vicinity of the varsity. So will people donate to an individual’s cause, that too for someone who has no heart-wrenching story to tell? Bhagya’s campaign has raised over $16,000 in just about a week's time. Though she received cynicism for her initiative initially, things quickly changed. "When people, who I don't know at all, call me and me if they could help me in any other way, it gives me goosebumps," Bhagya says. “WHY SHOULD YOU HELP ME?" Like all good things, to reach this goal, a few more obstacles lie ahead. The biggest one being fees. At a whopping $ 50,000 this amount of money is no easy deal. I am from a family of limited means and cannot afford this kind of money. I have studied hard to earn scholarships (including the Ratan Tata Scholarship at TISS) without burdening my family.”- Bhagya writes on the campaign page.  The fund she says is not enough, but she intends to take a loan and a part-time job to cover the rest of the expenses incurred during her course work. Bhagya says she is a Stella Maris, Chennai, and Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, gold medalist and is also a recipient of the Ratan Tata Scholarship. She has been working in the social service sector for the past 6 years and recently quit her job with Nalanda Way Foundation to focus on her Oxford programme. She worked towards building the self-esteem of adolescents hailing from difficult socio-economic background and hopes the masters course will help her in getting a better understanding of the issue. Will the campaign be a success? With five more days left for the campaign to end, and still $34,000 left to be raised, the odds seem to be stacked against her. If the quantum of money is not raised, she intends to try for the next academic year. Also, the money collected will be returned to the contributors. "Whether I make it to Oxford or not this year, I know I have learnt some essential life lesson through this experience. That people are contributing towards my education must mean they feel it is worth it for some reason. This is building my moral responsibility towards society," she says. When asked what Oxford meant to her, apart from the fact that the varsity is one of the few in the world which offers such a course, she was crisp in her answer. "When there are only 22 others from across the world that has been selected for the course, it in a way validates my hard work and effort," she says. Read: Fuelling TN's meme culture - the men behind the Chennai Memes FB page  
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