At her small home in Chennai's Moolakadai, A Sangeetha Class 12 student from an economically backward background, dreaming to become an IAS officer, is busy learning Hindi after her online classes, using a tablet she received as gift from two young women in the city. One of them, Gunisha Aggarwal, is a Class 12 student like herself.
Sangeetha had lost her mother recently and lives with her grandmother, Dhanabakkiyam, a domestic help, after her father abandoned her. The grandmother can't afford a smartphone and she could not dream of one, till the sisters, Gunisha and Arshita, stepped in, enabling her to join online classes. Recollecting the trauma she suffered without a smartphone or a tablet, the class topper told NDTV,
"I suffered a lot without attending online classes but now I am able to join". Asked about her ambition, she added "After my class XII, I want to do BA in History and become an IAS officer. It is my mother's dream and now my ambition."
Coming from a privileged background, the Aggarwal sisters have made it their mission to bridge the digital divide among students by gifting them new or used smartphones, tablets and laptops, essential for online classes, ever since the first Covid wave. In the last eleven months, the sisters have successfully reached out to at least 500 students. Those in need of devices can ask on their website - www.helpchennai.org - or just call them. Individuals, NGOs or corporates wanting to contribute devices too can reach out to them on their website.
Gunisha, the younger sibling who launched this project, says,
"As citizens, I think it is our responsibility to reach out to people and help others. It doesn't necessarily have to be big. We can use whatever resources we have at hand. That creates a virtuous cycle that would help everyone in the society to prosper."
Though they began reaching out in a small scale, help started pouring in soon. Besides individuals, the Rotary and even a few corporates came forward to donate new tablets. An IT company designed the website free of cost, which turned into a perfect platform, easily connecting donors and students in need.
Arshita, a budding lawyer, said, "There are also volunteers who help us repair the devices or get them refurbished and student ready, free of cost. Because neither of us have the capability."
The father of these young women is a senior IPS officer, Mahesh Kumar Aggarwal. The siblings say they were inspired by their mother Dr Vaneeta, a university teacher who gave a laptop to their domestic help's daughter. Though the service takes away much of her daughters' time, Dr Vaneeta says she's proud of her daughters. She says,
"As human being all of us want to do something, it gives meaning to life."
The digital divide has hit school children hard in the pandemic. Some have even died by suicide in the state. These sisters show how everyone can pitch in to bridge the divide.