Students from the MUWCI Foundation Programme who have gone on to study at all the 15 UWCs globally.
The UWC Mahindra College Foundation Programme, a year-long residential course for Indian students from less represented backgrounds, puts into action the college’s motto of ‘Diversity Through Access’. It facilitates students from non-English- speaking backgrounds to acquire the skills and competencies required to make best use of a UWC experience, in both the academic and social spheres.
The Programme seeks out young people from under-represented backgrounds – typically non-English speaking and financially or socially disadvantaged – who show sound academic potential along with the conviction and commitment to being change-makers. “We especially want young people who haven’t typically been within the UWC outreach net, but are brimming with the willingness to be creative, adventurous and courageous enough to make best use of the opportunity presented to them at UWC.” explained Foundation Programme Director, Ujwala Samarth.
Along with English support, Foundation Programme students strengthen their basic Math, Science and Social Studies concepts, begin to acquire the thinking/reading/writing skills required for succeeding in the IB Diploma programme, explore issues linked to world cultures and diversity, participate in a range of outdoor activities and build inner strength and resilience to face challenges.
Foundation Programme students add to the diversity of the institution they study at and are encouraged to contribute their unique perspectives, knowledge and talents towards enriching the college community at every level. While several Foundation students are Akshara students from MUWCI’s surrounding rural communities, new outreach initiatives have included selections from organizations like Maher, Ashraya Initiative for Children, Avasara Academy, Teach for India, the Akanksha Foundation, SOS Children’s Villages, and the Smile Foundation.
Over 30 students from this Programme have gone on to study at 15 UWC schools and colleges globally, since the first cohort began in 2010, with earliest graduates now on their way to completing their undergraduate degrees in the United States and India. Here are a selection of Foundation Programme alumni profiles, to showcase the remarkable young people
Shweta, a 15 year old girl from Asde village, Mulshi, has just been told that she has been selected for a UWC seat. Her large expressive eyes brimming with tears of relief, almost jumping up and down in excitement, Shweta has just one thing on her mind: Who should she inform first — her parents (her father is a farmer and part-time cook and her mother a homemaker) – or her UWC room-mates?
“When I first came to MUWCI, I never thought that I would be so close to my roomies,” she reflects later, “We are all from such different cultures…But today, I think they are as close as my village family. We care so much for each other. I think we will be life-long friends.”
When we interviewed Shweta for the Foundation Programme, we were particularly impressed by
the honesty with which she appraised her background. She obviously loved her family and village, stating quite strongly that she would much prefer to continue living in the rural environs of Mulshi rather than shift to the brighter lights of Pune city, and yet she was frankly critical of many aspects of her community – particularly the hold of religion and superstition and the prevalent gender bias.
“I thought about this a lot after reading Malala’s book in 9th standard. I have fought with my family over these issues,” said the petite 15-year- old, “And I have tried to explain to them that because I argue with them does not mean that I don’t love and respect them. I think they have begun to respect me for this. They take me seriously now.”
The past year at MUWCI has been, for Shweta, one of discovery, both inner and outer. Coming from a Neo-Buddhist family (as are many of the Dalit families in Mulshi valley), Shweta was delighted to be able to explore this aspect of her culture more deeply in the Buddhist meditation and mindfulness sessions on campus which she attended regularly. In her Art classes, she progressed from “always wanting to paint beautiful things” to a broader, more critical and sensitive understanding of what Art means. In discussions on society and politics in class, Shweta moved from a hazy desire to ‘change the situation of girls’ to being better informed about gender and sexuality, both at a personal and societal level.
One of the biggest challenges for Shweta came when the Foundation students were directed (by a UWC Second Year) in a full-length English play based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “When the play ended, we four just put our arms around each other and wept,” she recalls. “We cried out of relief that we had not disappointed Sara and this huge challenge was over, but we wept also because the conflict in Israel and Palestine was now so deep in our hearts, the pain was so real… This is what has happened to us here in MUWCI – we have become so connected to things we did not even know before.”
Shweta is not yet sure where her UWC education will take her– she has been offered a seat at UWC RCN — and what course she would like to pursue in college. But she is sure that her year in the Foundation Course at UWC-MC has opened her world, her mind and her heart as never before.
Rushikesh went to school in Phaltan, a small town near Pune, where his father grows pomegranates on a small farm. Fortunate enough to study at a progressive Marathi-medium school with students from a range of economic backgrounds, he joined the Foundation Course with the advantage of having been allowed to cultivate a sense of curiosity and the desire to explore the world around him and little parental pressure to join this or that educational stream.
During his year at UWC-MC, Rushikesh has been an active part of various discussion groups, outdoor activities and student initiatives. He has furthered his tabla skills and learned about new forms of music. One of the first groups that he became a part of, was the LGBTQ discussion group – “I didn’t even know what this was all about,” he reflects. “It’s not that I had negative thoughts about them – I had NO thoughts, this community was invisible to me till now!” As an active member of MUWCI Trekkers, Rushikesh contributed his knowledge of Maharashtra’s history to the group as they made their way to various forts, shrines and man-made caves.
In August 2016, Rushikesh joined UWC-Mostar – the third Foundation Course to do so in as many years. He spent the summer researching and reading about the region’s history and culture. His Bosnian friend on campus, Pavle, has been guiding him. “My family didn’t even know where Bosnia was – they had to take out a map and search!”
In his Foundation Programme selection interview, Rushikesh had mentioned that he would probably go for Engineering as a career. Now he is not so sure – “I have so many choices now that I had not thought of before… Global Affairs discussions have really made me think. This year has made my life so much more complicated!” he laughs, adding: “But in a good way.”
It’s a hard 90-minute walk to reach Ramesh’s house in the tiny village of Bhadas Konda, situated on a hill top near Mulshi valley. There are only 25 families living there and even basics like electricity and drinking water are a far-fetched dream. The village does not even provide education after the 4th grade. Ramesh was part of the Foundation Course at UWC Mahindra and then completed his IB Diploma at UWC Costa Rica in 2015 where he was one of the most active and dynamic students on campus. He is now a sophomore at Luther College in the United States.
‘In Akshara, I started asking questions. For example, in Asade village, for the sanitation project, I never understood why the villagers themselves didn’t keep their place clean! But then I realised that if you want to bring about change, you have to change first. My parents would never let me do housework after I got into UWC. But I made my stand clear and helped with chores. My younger brother had stopped going to school but now he attends school regularly.”