Avilash Pahi ’13 Spends Summer on Library for the Disabled in Calcutta

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Summer Social Action Award (S2A2) grantee Avilash Pahi ’13 spent this past summer in Calcutta, India furnishing a library for students with disabilities. But the seeds of this project were planted when Pahi was in high school.

“One of the workers in my high school in India had a disabled kid. My friends and I wanted to help him out, and learned all about the projects for assisting the disabled,” Pahi said. He and his friends volunteered to help Manovikas Kendra Institute of Research Rehabilitation for the Handicapped in their various other projects. Those volunteer jobs gave Pahi the basis for his S2A2 project at Swarthmore.

The S2A2 grants, given by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility, provide funds for students to pursue a summer of service, advocacy or activism. The grant committee loved Pahi’s project and provided $3,250 — $750 more dollars than the typical amount.

While applying for the S2A2, Pahi did field research and found out that the Manovikas Kendra Institute had been looking for funds to furnish its library with necessary learning tools. With the help of the S2A2 grant, Pahi was able to buy books, furniture, projectors, computers, and an electronic catalogue for the library, helping make it an efficient learning environment for the handicapped kids.

“The teachers in the institute will take their students to this library frequently and utilize the resources. This library is not intended for any fixed age group and is open to everyone in the community,” Pahi said.

Pahi’s next planned project is to follow-up the S2A2 with a Lang Opportunity Scholarship. This program selects up to 6 sophomores each year and funds their social action projects all around the world. It is a privilege that comes with a $10,000 grant, along with numerous other benefits. He hopes to furnish five more libraries, specialized for different groups with different disabilities such as the deaf and blind.

If Pahi can get the grant for his project, he will be able to provide an extensive library network in Calcutta with five more libraries. His plan is to have an interlibrary loan system, “just like the system we have here between the Tri-Co schools….That way, students from different regions and schools will be able to benefit from other librariesʼ resources as well,” Pahi said.

When asked about social activism and awareness in India, Pahi said, “The youth in India is taking big steps towards making their country a better place and solving pressing issues ranging from poverty to AIDS. Educated young people are fighting against those problems and making a difference nowadays. Non-government organizations and the United Nations are also working in the region to help those in need, but their efforts and some help from the government remain insufficient to make a real difference.” Young and motivated citizens like Pahi hope that their contributions can play a significant role in helping the community.

Pahi is currently preparing his proposal for the LOS, which is essentially an expansion of his summer project, and is hopeful about the outcome. On the experience as a whole, he said, “This was above all a very humbling experience for me. When you see what other people are going through, you learn to appreciate what you have.”

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