Back to basics

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

It’s not surprising that Kavita Gupta cares about education. After all, her life revolves around it.

Her mother is an elementary school teacher in Nagpur, India, where Gupta was born.

And in the future, the 29-year-old graduate student hopes to teach at a university in her native town when she finishes her master’s degree in bioengineering.

“Education has helped me stand on my own,” Gupta said. “Wherever I am now is because of education.”

Three years ago, Gupta moved from Nagpur, the third-largest city in India, to the United States with the dream of obtaining a higher education.

To be able to be educated is a rarity for someone under her circumstances, she said.

Fifty percent of the people in her hometown are illiterate, Gupta said. Female literacy levels dip even lower because women consistently lag behind men in education.

“Parents usually don’t focus on their daughter’s education because they are worried that if the daughter is too educated, she won’t be able to find a good match,” Gupta said.

None of her 12 female cousins attended college, most dropping out of high school to get married–90 percent of which were arranged marriages–or find temporary jobs.

“Because my mom was educated, she passed that importance of an education down to us,” Gupta said. “That has made a big difference in the way we live our lives.”

Gupta’s older sister was the first woman in her community to enroll in college. She is now a scientist, which Gupta said is very rare.

At the Laxminargyan Institute of Education in India, where Gupta finished her undergraduate degree in chemical technology, she was one of five females in her class.

Because she knows the value of education, Gupta is reaching back to when it started.

“Asha” is the Indian word for “hope,” and this year, Gupta is the director of the U’s chapter of the Asha organization, which brings education to children in India who can’t afford it.

Gupta and several other Asha volunteers sold India-themed T-shirts during Rangoli, an Indian celebration held in the Union Ballroom on Saturday. They raised $2,091.

“Asha literally takes kids that are begging on the streets and puts them in classrooms,” she said. “A lot of kids in India don’t have a good education because they can’t afford it.”

Seventy percent of the people in her town, Gupta said, live under the poverty level. She herself was in the lower class when she was living in Nagpur.

Her family–including her sister and two brothers–lived in a one-bedroom apartment.

“It’s different here because every house has a microwave and a refrigerator–something only the upper class could afford (in India),” Gupta, said. “Also, every undergrad has a car. It would take at least 20 years for anyone in India to afford one.”

And because of the class difference, Gupta had reason to be nervous when she flew to the United States–her first plane ride ever.

“But Indians are generally appreciated here, so I don’t feel as alienated so much,” she said. “People in the United States are really nice to each other?in India, there are not enough resources so people are struggling and fighting for everything.”

However, Krishna Narra, Gupta’s husband, said he is confident about India’s future.

“Things are changing, though,” said Narra, a graduate student in biochemistry. “People are being more open to ideas through education, so hopefully their resources will grow.”

In the future, Gupta hopes to visit the children she has helped through Asha. She plans to move back to India in three or four years.

In the meantime, she is organizing a performance with a classical dancer from India sometime in April or May that will benefit Asha.

“It’s great knowing that you’re able to do something for your country when you’re not even there,” Gupta said.

Kim Peterson

Kavita Gupta sells T-shirts and spreads the word about Asha (translated as “hope”), an educational aid organization in India, at Rangoli last Saturday in the Union.

Kim Peterson

Doctoral candidate Kavita Gupta finds copies of Polymer Journal in the Marriott Library for research she conducts to find ways to protect women from the spread of HIV and AIDS caused by intercourse.