How education helped me rewrite my life | Ashweetha Shetty


I was eight years old. I remember that day clearly like it happened just yesterday. My mother is a bidi roller. She hand-rolls country cigarettes
to sustain our family. She is a hard worker and spent 10 to 12 hours
every day rolling bidis. That particular day she came home
and showed me her bidi-rolling wage book. She asked me how much money
she has earned that week. I went through that book, and what caught my eyes
were her thumbprints on each page. My mother has never been to school. She uses her thumbprints
instead of a signature to keep a record of her earnings. On that day, for some reason, I wanted to teach her
how to hold a pen and write her name. She was reluctant at first. She smiled innocently and said no. But deep down, I was sure
she wanted to give it a try. With a little bit of perseverance
and a lot of effort, we managed to write her name. Her hands were trembling,
and her face was beaming with pride. As I watched her do this, for the first time in my life, I had a priceless feeling: that I could be of some use to this world. That feeling was very special, because I am not meant to be useful. In rural India, girls are generally
considered worthless. They’re a liability or a burden. If they are considered useful, it is only to cook dishes,
keep the house clean or raise children. As a second daughter
of my conservative Indian family, I was fairly clear from a very early age that no one expected anything from me. I was conditioned to believe that
the three identities that defined me — poor village girl — meant that I was to live a life
of no voice and no choice. These three identities forced me to think that I should never have been born. Yet, I was. All throughout my childhood,
as I rolled bidis alongside my mother, I would wonder: What did my future hold? I often asked my mother,
with a lot of anxiety, “Amma, will my life
be different from yours? Will I have a chance to choose my life? Will I go to college?” And she would reply back, “Try to finish high school first.” I am sure my mother
did not mean to discourage me. She only wanted me to understand that my dreams might be too big
for a girl in my village. When I was 13, I found
the autobiography of Helen Keller. Helen became my inspiration. I admired her indomitable spirit. I wanted to have
a college degree like her, so I fought with my father
and my relatives to be sent to college, and it worked. During my final year
of my undergraduate degree, I desperately wanted to escape
from being forced into marriage, so I applied to
a fellowship program in Delhi, which is about 1,600 miles
away from my village. (Laughter) In fact, I recall that the only way
I could fill out the application was during my commute to college. I did not have access to computers, so I had to borrow
a college junior’s cell phone. As a woman, I could not
be seen with a cell phone, so I used to huddle
his phone under my shawl and type as slowly as possible to ensure that I would not be heard. After many rounds of interviews, I got into the fellowship program
with a full scholarship. My father was confused,
my mother was worried — (Applause) My father was confused,
my mother was worried, but I felt butterflies in my stomach because I was going
to step out of my village for the first time to study in the national capital. Of the 97 fellows selected that year, I was the only rural college graduate. There was no one there
who looked like me or spoke like me. I felt alienated, intimidated
and judged by many. One fellow called me “Coconut Girl.” Can you guess why? Anyone? That’s because I applied
a lot of coconut oil to my hair. (Laughter) Another asked me where
I had learned to speak English, and some of my peers did not prefer
to have me on their assignment teams because they thought I would not be able
to contribute to their discussion. I felt that many of my peers
believed that a person from rural India could not supply anything of value, yet the majority of Indian
population today is rural. I realized that stories like mine
were considered to be an exception and never the expectation. I believe that all of us are born
into a reality that we blindly accept until something awakens us
and a new world opens up. When I saw my mother’s first signature
on her bidi-rolling wage book, when I felt the hot
Delhi air against my face after a 50-hour train journey, when I finally felt free
and let myself be, I saw a glimpse
of that new world I longed for, a world where a girl like me
is no longer a liability or a burden but a person of use, a person of value and a person of worthiness. By the time my fellowship ended,
my life had changed. Not only had I traced my lost voice, but also had a choice
to make myself useful. I was 22. I came back to my village
to set up the Bodhi Tree Foundation, an institution that supports rural youth by providing them with education,
life skills and opportunities. We work closely with our rural youth to change their life
and to benefit our communities. How do I know my institution is working? Well, six months ago, we had a new joinee. Her name is Kaviarasi. I first spotted her
in a local college in Tirunelveli during one of my training sessions. As you can see, she has a smile
which you can never forget. We guided her to get an opportunity
to study at Ashoka University, Delhi. The best part of her story is that
she is now back at Bodhi Tree as a trainer working with dedication to make a change
in the lives of others like her. Kaviarasi doesn’t want
to feel like an exception. She wants to be of use
to others in this world. Recently, Kaviarasi mentored Anitha, who also comes
from a remote, rural village, lives in a 10-foot-by-10-foot home, her parents are also farm laborers. Kaviarasi helped Anitha secure admission
in a prestigious undergraduate program in a top university in India
with a full scholarship. When Anitha’s parents
were reluctant to send her that far, we asked the district
administration officials to speak to Anitha’s parents, and it worked. And then there is Padma. Padma and I went to college together. She’s the first in her entire village
to attend graduation. She had been working with me at Bodhi Tree until one day she decides
to go to graduate school. I asked her why. She told me that she wanted to make sure that she would never be
a liability or a burden to anyone at any point in her life. Padma, Anitha and Kaviarasi grew up in the most tough
families and communities one could only imagine. Yet the journey of finding
my usefulness in this world served them in finding
their usefulness to this world. Of course there are challenges. I’m aware change
does not happen overnight. A lot of my work involves working
with families and communities to help them understand
why getting an education is useful for everyone. The quickest way
to convince them is by doing. When they see their kids
getting a real education, getting a real job, they begin to change. The best example
is what happened at my home. I was recently given an award
in recognition of my social work by the chief minister of my state. That meant I was going
to be on television. (Laughter) Everyone was hooked on to the television
that morning, including my parents. I would like to believe
that seeing her daughter on television made my mother feel useful too. Hopefully, she will stop
pressuring me to get married now. (Laughter) Finding my use has helped me
to break free from the identities society thrusts on me — poor village girl. Finding my use has helped me
to break free from being boxed, caged and bottled. Finding my use has helped me
to find my voice, my self-worth and my freedom. I leave you with this thought: Where do you feel useful to this world? Because the answer to that question is where you will find
your voice and your freedom. Thank you. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How education helped me rewrite my life | Ashweetha Shetty”

  1. so being told to finish high school first is diecorgen. how can I put this hm get over yourself you are not the only persona on earth that was treat like they were useless growing up.

  2. Formal education – obeying and building somebody else’s dream
    Self-education – taking charge and building your own dream

  3. Educating women only lowers the birthrate, and then we have demographic catastophe the generation after. And social systems which were built on the model of a ponzi scheme don't have enough workers to fund the systems, and the old folks trying to leave the system can't, cuz their pensions can't be funded with so few workers. She can "re-write" her life, but at what larger cost to society, civilization? Even worse if she'd "educated" in liberal arts, feminism, and marxism.

  4. The problem with education is that it's enforced in a bad way. The whole system discourages a healthy life style and choosing what you want to do.

  5. Give into life or fight for your life, the choice is yours,
    learn to empty the cup and you will find that others will fill it!
    The world is full of people who are willing to use an empty cup.

  6. There is a difference between SCHOOL and EDUCATION

    School teaches students how to collect the dots.
    Education teaches students how to connect the dots.

  7. It's an honour to watch this video. I am really proud to see women growing from an downtrodden situation to such an Educational Revolution in the society. A women has the power to educate the upcoming generation, to build our nation. Keep the Education growing. We are a an Educational Fraternity built by students aged 17-20 who are wishing to teach and grow the Educational front of our nation. An association of student teachers Passionate for Teaching and helping our society grow ❤️

    Regards
    Prasad Prabhu
    Managing Director
    Metamorph Institute Of Scholastic Education
    [email protected]

  8. Very inspiring talk, by Ms Shetty in her inimitable sing-song voice 😋
    Education is the most life changing experience one can have. It's admirable that coming from a small obscure village in South India, Ms Shetty mustered the courage to migrate all the way to Delhi, not exactly the most woman-friendly city in India. Her talk should inspire n motivate many girls from remote rural regions of India to pursue higher education to transform their life. Good luck 👍

  9. There is a drastic difference between a woman who is educated from a village in some developing nation that looks down upon women going to school and a western woman educated in a western university. The former had to overcome challenges, display personal resilience, discipline, and face and overcome adversity. The latter has everything handed to her on a silver platter complete with scholarships and lower bars of entry all attached to an unreasonable amount of debt (in the USA). This is why a much higher percentage of women who graduate in India have STEM degrees than their western counterparts. This is why women who graduate in India are competent by the time they have a degree.

  10. Look at what feminism has done to women in the west. Skyrocketing obesity rates, skyrocketing alcoholism rates, women initiate 80% of divorces, single motherhood destroying the family unit, women murdering their own babies by the millions aborted, etc etc. Feminism has destroyed the west yet the developing world strives to emulate this destruction. To all 3rd world men – save your country. Do not allow your women to embrace the destruction of feminism.

  11. yes, we knw the best for our self even parents or everyone say u cant do these. we have a super power inside yeah

  12. Education in its current form is not the answer to happiness or self-fulfillment. Self-learning could lead one to understanding their purpose in life. Earning less doesn't define your worth. When the politicians push education on you then its time you need to give it a second thought. Once you are done with school, your job as a factory worker awaits you.

  13. What a strong ,smart ,caring ,and amazing woman who has done so much good, and kudos to her parents, who were willing and brave enough to step outside the box THEY were put in, and let their daughter fly. An inspiring story

  14. What a wonderful moving talk, and a wonderful encouraging empowering example Ashweetha, thank you for sharing and for having the courage to stand for yourself and nurture your deep truth. blessings to you

  15. As a father of two girls this story makes me cry.
    It was very clear for me from the first second of their life I will always support them and encourage them to do whatever they want to do.
    Education and knowledge is the only thing that can help make the world a better place for everyone.

  16. Wow! Awesome, empowering & Inspirational message. You go gal. Yes you can.
    You have made every women proud. No country can reach its full Economic, Social, Cultural, Spiritual potential until every women reach their full potential. 
    Jai Hind. Thank you Ashweetha

  17. Japanese gov. is ready to realease ☢️ 1,000,000 tons of unfiltered radiocative ☢️ contaminated water 🌊 all the way into the pacific ocean 🌊 from Fukushima. (According to the Greenpeace, 2019)

    JUST because it's expensive to store contaminants for a long time, and 2020 T☢️KYO OLYMPICS is coming up so they don't want it on their land.

    If they release those water into the Pacific, It will directly affect all the pacific-ASIAN countries🇰🇷 🇸🇬 🇭🇰 🇮🇩 🇹🇼 🇲🇾 🇨🇳 🇻🇳 🇹🇭 🇵🇭 U.S, 🇺🇸 Canada 🇨🇦 and eventually all over the world! 🇺🇳

    So now it's not their problem, its our problem to solve. I don't want to get cancer in my young age. Neither my loved ones. Please stop them and get them make it right.

    It's shouldn't be about money 💰 or fuckn Olympics. It's about our survival.

    Let's make it right people.
    And to TED, Please make this issue go viral.

  18. Education is like food.the right kind, in moderation can lead to a healthy growth. The wrong kind, or overwhelming amounts of useless information (TV, social media) – all contribute to the greater mental health and defeatist attitudes amongst what could be some of the brightest people We’ve ever seen.😞

  19. Bahut acche aisi hi ladkiyon ki zaroorat hai samaj ko. Aur aise ladkiyon ke liye kaha jata hai padegi beti to badhegi beti.

  20. despite her strong indian accent I deeply understand her, good job girl…I am a rural girl and know I'm studying PhD course. what brought me here to watch your inspiring speech was that at the moment I'm improving my english skills to be able to apply for a postdoc position abroad.

  21. Great personality and amazing speech , she has gone a long way to reach what she is , difference of cultures and language ..etc
    Massive respect ❤❤
    This is the real feminism .

  22. The whole thing is beautiful. What stands out to me is the idea of living in a state of connectedness, and through this connectedness, transmit peace. What a beautiful state to live in. It's what I want more than anything.

  23. My father is from tirunelveli. You're doing a noble thing Ms. Shetty.
    Kalvi enum oli kudutha neeyum oru kathiravan.

  24. She looks amazing, confident, and brave. Thanks to all the educators around the world who are transforming lives!

  25. What an #awespiring journey of a #noFilter cigarette roller girl to delivering a lecture in impeccable English, i bet Bharka Dutt https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barkha_Dutt has no clue how many people she has inspired!

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