An Interview with Kushal Chakravorty: Founder of the Lotus Petal Foundation
Earlier this month, I had the honor of interviewing Kushal Chakravorty, the founder of the Lotus Petal Foundation, to ask him everything from the amazing and impactful work that this charity has achieved and how all of it began.
“One chilly morning in Delhi, I was dropping my daughters, aged 2 and 6, to school. They were dressed in the best winter clothing, but I was still wondering whether it was enough for them to be comfortable.That's when I noticed that the two kids walking right in front of me, did not have even the basic winter wear, not even a sweater or shoes on their feet. That was a moment of truth for me, the point in time which changed the course of my life.” Kushal went on to tell me that his children were in the position that they were in solely because of the conditions that he had grown up with; the privilege of receiving a good education, getting three square meals a day, his health being taken care of, and being given good guidance, all of which led him to having a good job to provide for his kids. In contrast, the parents of the children on the street most likely did not get these opportunities, due to lack of education for economic reasons, leading them to be trapped in a life of poverty, unable to provide for their kids. Once Kushal realized all of this, he went to the children’s school and found that it was not only the two children he had seen that were suffering in the cold, but that there were almost 250 children in similar circumstances. “That week, I gave shoes, caps, and socks to all these kids and it gave me an amazing sense of fulfillment. I really liked how I felt that day, and when you like something then you try to do more of it.”
One thing led to another when Kushal began to volunteer for charities in the city, and he ended up coming back to the very same school the next year to donate winter clothes again. However, he found that many children were studying at grades far lower than their age: “These kids were languishing in the education system and as soon as they became economically viable for their parents, they would most likely follow in their parents footsteps in a menial labor job. They will most likely stay there the rest of their lives.” With a resolve to help these children, through Kushal’s personal savings, he set up a one room school in a local arcade with 6 students. The idea was to give them a ‘fast track education' - which would soon go on to become Lotus Petal’s first official program, Pratishthan - and equip them with additional skills that would help them become independent. This is when things began to take off, whether it was starting Lotus Petal Foundation’s first school or the healthcare program and meal plan, every step along the way added something new. Five years later, in 2016, Kushal quit his corporate job to focus full time on Lotus Petal Foundation. The organization now has two campuses, the first with 1500 students and the second which is still being built, in tandem with the digital life platform. On the digital platform, students in schools affected by India’s teacher shortage can connect with teachers from the Lotus Petal Foundation, and so far helps 6500+ students across 125+ schools in 8 states. Not only does Lotus Petal teach core subjects like math, science, literature, and history, but also drama and art in order to ‘develop the kids’ personalities so that they are well-rounded’. Every parent wants their child to have a better life than their own. However, some parents don't have the resources to give their children that better life; for those parents, Lotus Petal helps their kids to get the right education, nutrition, and skill development so these kids can lead a life where they don’t need to worry about their past burdens, their own future, let alone their children’s futures down the line. Through these methods, not only does Lotus Petal bring education to underprivileged children, but in the process, focuses on breaking the cruel cycle of generational poverty that they would face without the help of Lotus Petal. Currently, there are 76 alumni and most of them are in jobs earning twice India's per capita income, originally coming from families earning below capita income, showing how Lotus Petal Truly impacts entire families.
As previously mentioned, Lotus Petal’s first program, Pratishthan, or ‘fast track education’ is a very innovative and unique solution to educational deficiencies that sets Lotus Petal apart from other NGOs. Many children in India are studying in grades that are much lower than their age. Through the Fast track program, Lotus Petal helps these children catch up to their proper grade level, “For example, taking a 14 or 15 year old child who is lagging behind in grade 3 or 4, and helping them graduate high school in 5 years, as well as getting vocational training.” This program also helps young adults who have completed high school but can’t afford higher education. “Pratishthan is very close to my heart, since it was Lotus Petal’s first program and has had so many success stories. The most shining example is of Saloni Raj.” Saloni Raj was Lotus Petal’s first student in 2013. She was 14 years old at the time, but studying in grade 4. With Lotus Petal’s help, by 2018, she completed highschool and took a gap year in which she studied for the national exam for medical colleges. The following year she passed the exam, and is now a 5th year dental student, who in a year's time is going to be a doctor. Her journey in ten years from lagging behind to becoming a doctor, shows the incredible impact that Lotus Petal has on the trajectory of these children’s lives. It truly takes only one person to believe in someone else so that they can fully realize their own potential, and this is exactly what Kushal has been able to accomplish with his wonderful mission, “changing lives, one child at a time.”
In the next couple of years, Kushal wants to finish construction on the Lotus Petal Senior Secondary school, which is already in session despite being only 50% completed. In the next three years, this school is projected to become India's largest philanthropic school, providing education and other resources to 10,000+ students on campus.
Kushal also wants to grow the reach of his digital life platform, with a goal of 100,000 virtual students. Through this platform, Lotus Petal hopes to spread their mission and change many more lives in the process, continuing to inspire people all over the world to contribute to their cause.
There are many ways to get involved with Lotus Petal. With a base of operations in both India and the US, you can work, volunteer, or become a board member for the organization to be part of Lotus Petal's impact. Professionals, such as teachers, can take classes to teach the children, and even if you’re a student you can volunteer and interact with the younger kids, especially to help with their communication skills. Sponsoring a child's education and nutrition as well are great options as well.
I will end with the words that stuck with me most during my interview with Kushal (a very hard feat because talking with him makes you feel like you can do anything): “At Lotus Petal we believe that there is good inside every individual. What I can say is that if you provide any support to Lotus Petal, you can be assured that what you're providing will be utilized for the children's benefit. We are all in this together, as one world, one community, and every penny goes a long way in enabling someone to get an equal opportunity to make it in life.”
Thank you for reading, and I really hope this encouraged you to support The Lotus Petal Foundation. As always, don't forget to subscribe!