In August 2003, a UNITED SIKHS volunteer from the UK spent a month in India attending a Change Agents of the Future (CAOF) camp. After this camp she was due to join a 'seva' project, 'seva' being the concept of selfless service for others. She was not, however, able to undertake this project, due to the unexpected death of her grandfather. This volunteer had come to India with a £250 Pilkington Travel Award and £400 grant from the Isaac Newton Trust of Cambridge University to do women's projects of her choice. She left the grants with UNITED SIKHS to apply as deemed fit. At this stage UNITED SIKHS was looking to start project STARAE .
Later on that summer, on a trip for a separate project to Ekel Gedda village in Panjab, a UNITED SIKHS director met a young widow who was single-handedly bringing up her 3 daughters and young son. This lady, despite, her financial and social problems connected to being a widow, was full of enthusiasm for her daughters. She spoke to UNITED SIKHS about her daughters abilities and her dreams for them. She spoke with pride about Jatinder Kaur's 95% marks at St Soldier School, known well for its quality of education. Kirandeep Kaur, her middle daughter, had, however, been forced to drop out of her plus two (A level) studies as the family could not afford her fees. Kirandeep Kaur had instead started to study at home, forced to switch to the arts stream for home study, whilst her ambition was to remain a science student. Throughout the meeting, Kirandeep Kaur was keen to talk about her studies, but expressed regret at not being able to further her studies in science. She had been a brilliant student in lower secondary school, but because of her father's death and the financial restrictions facing her family, her grades had begun to fail. Her mother spoke of her concerns for the future as she was not going to be able to keep even her younger daughter at St Soldier School for long.
UNITED SIKHS saw these girls as worthy recipients of the Pilkington Travel Award and Isaac Newton Trust grant. We met the St Soldier School Director, Mr. Mangal Singh, who confirmed that Jatinder Kaur was a top performer at school - scoring the best marks in her grade. Mr. Mangal Singh agreed to take Kirandeep Kaur on at the school at the beginning of the year, agreeing to extra assistance and coaching for her, with a view to preparing her to rejoin the science stream.
UNITED SIKHS drew up a plan to expend the Pilkington Travel Award on Jatinder Kaur's studies, and the grant from the Isaac Newton trust on Kirandeep Kaur's studies. These grants have enabled the STARAE project to come into fruition earlier than expected. The money will fund the girls to the end of their secondary education, covering the cost of books, uniforms, travel and extra tuition.
Encouraged by the propitious start to the STARAE project, UNITED SIKHS sourced funding for the education of 16 children at 4 participating schools recruiting them from village state-education schools for the new academic year commencing april 2004. Candidates were awarded scholarships based on their performance and their financial means.
In 2004/2006, STARAE sponsored 16 scholars to study in 4 private schools in Panjab. The scholars are bright children who come from backgrounds of families with limited financial means.When we visited Panjab in April 2005, it was heartening to be so warmly welcomed by the staff at the schools we visited and to talk to the parents and scholars themselves about their impressions of the first year of the scheme. The scholarships are benefiting children of a range of ages. The youngest scholars showed off their knowledge of the alphabet while the elder children talked of their ambitions for the future. At whatever stage the scholarship is helping the student, it is paving the way for them to be the stars that they have the potential to be.The parents were delighted at their childrens' enthusiasm - this made them interested and gave them a desire to be involved in their childrens' progress. In the case of one young girl, Rajwinder Kaur, the child of a single parent family, originally her father was suffering from an alcohol addiction and was very uninterested in her education. However, it was a pleasant surprise to see him attend the feedback session, a reformed character, inspired by STARAE.
At St. Soldier Day Boarding School, primary school staff were overwhelmed by a young scholar, Gurpreet Singh, the son of the village, 'granthi,' who had started school late, but had caught up the work he had missed in days. He had also inspired the whole school to do naam simran before eating.
At the Standard Public School Dhulka ,the principal and teachers were very grateful for the idea of discussing the students' progress with the students themselves as this had not been common practice previously and the school had found it a very efficient way of assessing students' progress and making action plans for further improvement in areas in which students were weak. The project has also inspired this school to publish a school magazine.
STARAE has, therefore, not only helped the scholars themselves to progress, but has channelled its light in different directions. In one case, it has benefited a parent and, therefore, also the child's family situation and it has helped the schools as a whole in certain ways as well.