Student Spotlight - Chasing her dreams to build for the future | Aga Khan Academies

Student Spotlight - Chasing her dreams to build for the future

26 November 2021

My name is Saraswathi Gandapaka and I joined the Academy in August 2017, in Grade 7. I came from a government school in Begumpet, close to where my family lived. The school I used to study at had no proper light or fans; the students would sit either on the tables that were available or, if you were late to class, you would have to sit on the ground. Luckily for us, it was a school supported by the Teach For India programme and often we would get really good teachers who they sent.

When I arrived at the Academy it was a complete change in my life. As a day student, my world at school was entirely different from my world at home. While it was very intimidating at the beginning, I slowly realised what an incredible opportunity this was. Looking back, the teachers at the Academy were pivotal to my settling in and getting used to the way things function and a completely new curriculum.

Over the course of the last 4 and a half years, I have had the chance to focus on a wide variety of activities both in the classroom and outside. I used to think Biology was my favourite subject but since I discovered Computer Science and Coding, I haven’t been able to think of anything else! I learnt how to swim at the Academy; something I would never have been able to do if I had stayed in my community where most families do not allow girls outside of their homes. I have also worked with TEDx, Music Appreciation and Talent Buzz which is an annual showcase of the talent at the Academy. Each activity has increased my communication skills and allowed me to appreciate the point of view of others. Last week I went camping for the first time, and hiking – it was exhausting but so exhilarating to experience something completely new!

I moved to the residences a few months ago and this has allowed me to focus completely on my education. With access to a stable internet connection, one on one meetings with my teachers and no distractions, I have been able to work really hard. I try to make use of every single moment, and if I am not studying, I am playing sports or spending time with my friends.

Coming to the Academy has also brought so much change in my community. Previously, girls would get married as soon as they turned 15. Now, a lot has changed, inspired by my family a number of our neighbours are more interested in education. Increasing numbers of girls are being sent to school and encouraged to invest in their future. Every time I go home, parents ask me to speak to their children and teach them. My parents still face criticism for investing so much in my education; people think they should be focusing on their son instead,but they know better. They have been very supportive of my time here and the experience I am getting.

As my time at the Academy draws to a close, with a year and a half to go, I have started to think about what life will look like after. I hope I will get into a good university, either in India or abroad, and be able to pursue a degree in Computer Science. I then want to come back to India and focus on how I can change the lives of other girls like me. For now, I am looking at how to make my mark here at the Academy and leaving a footprint I can be proud of. I have learnt to live in the moment and move out of my comfort one, I even contribute to classes now! It seems clichéd to say the Academy changed my life, but it really has, it’s my home. I am an entirely different person from the little girl who walked in through the gates almost 5 years ago.