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Diary Of A Teach For India Fellow : My Inspiration - Shaheen Mistri

Fellow, Teach For India

Call it my indifference or a mental block, but I used to feel till last year that the rich and elite are less bothered about social causes as compared to the rest of us. I had created an image for them in my mind and it was hard to look at them in a different light. That’s why I was unable to digest that someone, who has everything money can buy, could think so much about her country and devote her entire life in transforming the state of education, and the lives of countless children, there. Shaheen Mistri inspires me like nobody else I have ever met. At the young age of 18, she founded Akanksha foundation, an NGO that started off with after-school educational programmes for under-privileged children, and gradually turned into a chain of schools meant for the poor, but with no compromises on the quality of education provided. I had the privilege to meet Jyoti and some other Akanksha kids at an event and was absolutely amazed to see their incredible performances. Jyoti speaks English like a dream and can be easily mistaken for a college graduate with her confident and self-assured personality.

In 2007, Shaheen founded Teach for India (TFI), a movement of outstanding college graduates and young leaders who believe that quality education is the birth-right of every Indian. The mission of TFI is to bridge the educational gap which exists between well-funded schools and low-income schools in India, by placing highly-skilled and passionate young leaders in the latter as full-time teachers for two years. The TFI fellowship programme, which is running in Mumbai, Pune, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai, began in 2009, and since then, more than 500 young leaders have joined the movement as fellows.

As a senior fellow with TFI, I have had numerous opportunities to interact with Shaheen, and she never ceases to amaze me with her simplicity, modesty, grace, optimism and visionary outlook. Despite all the problems and challenges she has faced, and still faces, in her professional and personal life, she has never lost her motivation and enormous sense of possibility. She has a sparkling smile and she smiles very often. Her positive aura is so palpable; you tend to notice her presence the moment she walks into a room. She is also very reflective and has internalized the habit of reflecting back on one’s own actions.

Shaheen is known for her benevolence and giving nature. So much so that, we in TFI call her our giving tree. Recently she sent us an email which really moved me. And so, I will end this column by sharing a section of her email which can inspire anybody who wishes to get inspired.

"Remember you always have the choice :

· To plan or not to plan
· To develop those incredibly strong bonds with your kids. Or to be just another teacher
· To treat your children with respect, and care. Or to do something that humiliates them
· To transform you classroom into a beautiful, magical place. Or to have it continue to be the unclean, uninspiring place that won't inspire change
· To rise above mediocrity and strive for excellence. Or to be a little better than the alternative
· To solve the problems that you have. Or to complain about them
· To focus on the good. Or to get bogged down by what isn't working

The choice of becoming a leader for your children, and for your country is in your hands. You just need to exercise the right choice. Make the right decisions. Look in the mirror. Put in the agonizingly hard work. But mostly, keep the faith. The belief. The sense of possibility. And when you waver, like I do, get back on the path of belief soon. Do whatever it takes to keep yourself on that path."

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Pranav Sukhija
Pranav Sukhija is a Teach for India fellow, a prolific writer and an explorer of everything that the world offers. When not working, he spends most of his time thinking about his kids and school and strives hard to give them a high quality education. He is a people's person and gets along well with most people. He loves taking out time to connect with friends and acquaintances and derives energy and power from them. He'd be very happy to connect with you, too. Please write to him at


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