Sudhanva Shetty Shetty
Writer, coffee-addict, likes folk music & long walks in the rain. Firmly believes that there's nothing more important in a democracy than a well-informed electorate.
“I am indebted to my father for living, but to my teacher for living well.” – Alexander.
Graduates from India’s IITs are well-positioned for international jobs with lucrative salaries and a life of luxury. But occasionally, we hear stories of IIT graduates opting for a more modest livelihood spent in service of society. And even if this life does not always mean a life of great wealth, it always means a life of great satisfaction and legacy. Such individuals improve the lives of countless others – and inspire all of us in the process.
Imbesat Ahmad is one such individual. A graduate of IIT-Kharagpur, Imbesat and three of his friends got together to open an educational institution for students in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Realising the education crisis in India’s northernmost state, they resolved to help aspiring IITians there by coaching them and guiding their careers so that they could make the most of their lives.
Imbesat’s organisation is named RISE. Located in Srinagar, it was founded in 2012 with a focus on preparing students for IIT-JEE and other national-level entrance examinations. It coaches around 200 students today – students with big dreams but little chances, due to various factors like poverty, conflict, isolation, curfews, and frequent electricity and internet cuts.
The Logical Indian recently interviewed Imbesat Ahmad. We spoke about RISE’s journey, the team dedicatedly working to give the youth of Kashmir a worthy education, his future plans, and the importance of education in the development of a nation.
“My first trip to Jammu and Kashmir,” Imbesat said, “was in 2012. Through friends and social media, I was made aware of the Kashmiri people’s education issues. I began to think, ‘What can be done to give Indians there a decent education?’ When I visited Kashmir, I realised that the situation was direr than I had imagined. People there had no idea about modern education. They were still in their 1970s and 1960s era. They have no awareness and thus there was – and is – high unemployment and no entrepreneurship or innovation. This was especially true when it came to technical education. Hardly anyone could manage to get into an IIT, an NIT, or an NLS – and hardly anyone had. And ones who did have ideas and dreams had no platform to implement their ideas or pursue their dreams.”
Imbesat got in contact with another person, Mubeen, an IIT-Bombay alumnus, who is from Srinagar. Together, they co-founded RISE. “Our mission was and is to help students recognise their potential and facilitate them with the best educational tools, methodologies, and mentors to realise it.”
Initially, Imbesat would visit Srinagar to educate students during his summer breaks. After the completion of his courses, he envisioned a more durable presence and impact. “I got two other friends on board – Salman, a student of chemical engineering from IIT-Kharagpur, and Saifi, a student of Electronics and Communication from Delhi Technical University. We were people united by the goal of educating the students of J&K. Over time, RISE grew in clout and scope.”
“We teach engineering fundamentals and we also encourage and guide our children in ideating startups and apps and so on. One of our students, for example, made an app to sell her family’s Pashmina shawls. We also help out students who are already in engineering colleges to connect them to the industry and prospective employers. The goal is to help our students stand on their own feet.”
In their quest to give Kashmiri youth a chance to join India’s best educational institutes, the RISE team, invariably, faced many obstacles.
“We had to confront various troubles. For example, in 2014 when J&K was engulfed in floods, even our institute was flooded, and half-submerged. We lost most of our books and material in that disaster. Then, last year there was a lot of turmoil. The months-long curfew affected our activities. Our students suffered, our classes were affected. Due to the curfew, our students were forced to come at 5 in the morning for classes.”
Despite the many obstacles, the RISE team persevered. The students worked and hard and the mentors never gave up on them.
Last year, RISE sent four students to IITs and twenty to NITs. Imbesat told The Logical Indian, “That was the first time someone went to an IIT after studying in Kashmir only. Before that, there was a notion that a Kashmiri could never join an IIT by solely studying in Kashmiri schools. We broke that stereotype. Additionally, two of our students managed to get into American institutes. One got into Princeton University, the other into the University of Washington.”
“Another one of our students reached up to the interview round for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), but unfortunately could not crack that interview. But the fact that he had made it so far itself was very appreciable because before the interview there was no internet for four months straight. Without access to basic information, he managed to crack the exams with very good scores and succeed. We are very proud of all our students.”
In this year’s JEE-Main, 42 RISE students cracked the exam. “They are now preparing for their JEE-Advanced on 21 May. I hope that we will be able to send many more students to IITs this year too.”
Currently, RISE operates in Srinagar. Next month, the organisation plans to expand its teaching centres to Jammu as well.
“The plan is to cover more and more of J&K so that, no matter what the situation is, education will always be provided to the people. We also want to include technology in our venture – we are currently working on the RISE mobile app. Moving forward, as we grow, we hope to line up more motivated people to join our team. We want more people, people who are eager to make an impact in the field of education, so that we can have a bigger impact. After all, this is a human-driven industry. Apart from that, once we’ve saturated in J&K, we hope to expand to other parts of India with similar educational problems – like the Northeast and parts of Bihar.”
RISE is led by four people:
RISE also has several volunteers who help the team in designing, content development, app development and so on.
RISE is completely funded by a handful of students’ parents who can afford to pay a nominal fee to sustain the institution.
Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Imbesat echoes, “Education enables a nation’s children to enter the best colleges and companies. The youth will find satisfaction, respect, and belonging in that. It gives them the independence they seek. After all, it is only when you are educated that you can reach the tallest of heights.”
And then there’s the saying by Charles Bukowski, who wrote, “You begin saving the world by saving one person at a time; all else is grandiose romanticism or politics.”
People like Imbesat, Mubeen, Salman, and Saifi are people who change the world by educating the youth. Their impact is palpable even when reading their students’ testimonials – which can be read here. The Logical Indian applauds the RISE team for their efforts in helping Kashmir’s youth realise their dream of joining India’s top colleges.
Education is indeed the most important aspect of an evolved society, and those who help youngsters get educated are the torchbearers of a nation’s conscience.
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