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Coming back from Italy, Priyanka decided to stopover in Dubai to meet Fabiana and see the UAE. (Supplied photo)

From an Indian slum to a US university

Saman Haziq/Dubai

Born and raised in a slum in Pune, India, Priyanka Patil expected her life to follow the familiar path of other girls in her neighbourhood – a path that would lead to limited opportunities for the future.

But then a miracle named ‘Teach for India” happened in her life and the initiative taught her to evolve from a shy timid teenager to a student leader determined to realise her potential and fulfil her dreams. Priyanka has now taken admission into a US university and is all set to undertake another life-changing journey.

Her mentor Italian national Fabiana, who resides in Dubai for the past 11 years, invited Priyanka to Dubai. She shares her inspiring story with Khaleej Times while visiting Dubai.

“My mother raised me single-handedly as my father had abandoned us after I was born. She got me admission in a small English medium school, despite lot of resistance from our extended family. The only thing that kept my mother and me going was hope. Hope that education will some day give me a bright future,” Priyanka told Khaleej Times.

Things changed for Priyanka when she was in Grade 4. “I once tried cheating in class and got caught. The incident was a turning point in my life as I had never felt so ashamed of myself as I felt that day, when my teacher slapped me in front of the whole class because of what I had done.”

From there on, Priyanka realised the value of honesty and her academic results started soaring. She worked hard, started writing more, took keen interest in dramatics and in Grade 7 wrote her first play in English. That was her way of expressing herself, she felt liberated.

Life takes a turn

At the age of 13, her life took a big turn. “I was drawn towards theatre since I was quite young. I remember writing, directing and performing various plays in my school. That caught the attention of the NGO, Teach for India, resulting into me auditioning, and later getting selected for its student leadership programme called Maya.”

The Maya musical started as a journey of exploring student leadership. Thirty children were taken on a life-changing quest of self-discovery, like Princess Maya in the story. Over 18 months, the Maya children travelled across the country, performed at conferences and public spaces, practised their values through acts of kindness and worked on a student-led project to spread happiness in 100 ways through the arts. Priyanka was one of them.

Dubai connection

Dubai resident Fabiana met Priyanka in October 2014 when she went to Mumbai to see Maya musical. “Fabiana has been involved with Teach for India and that’s how I met her. After the shows, I was offered a scholarship and went on to study in Italy at the United World College of the Adriatic for two years. I met Fabiana more as she would come to Italy during Christmas and I would spend my winter break with her family in Italy.”

Coming back from Italy, Priyanka decided to stopover in Dubai to meet Fabiana and see the UAE.

“Priyanka is an amazingly brave girl. After her IB in Italy, she came back not only as a mature young lady but also she has flourished into a strong, emotionally stable and wise 17-year-old. She has a very clear picture of what she wants in life and her passion and drive will lead her very far. I picture her as a social leader in her country one day, giving back to her society and helping her own communities,” Fabiana told Khaleej Times.

“For us, it is a privilege to having met Priyanka who has taught us the joy of life through her efforts and wisdom. Priyanka is a role model to our kids who have everything in life but, as many of us do in our society, take many things for granted.”

First time in UAE 

Giving her take on Dubai, Priyanka said: “I am reading a book written by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and I am so impressed by his positivity and vision. I am fascinated by the UAE’s concept of positivity, happiness and giving. The country has big aims and big goals and vision, which is quite impressive,” she said.

“Also, I love the diversity here with so much exposure to so many cultures and yet all enjoy practising their religion and culture freely. It’s beautiful,” Priyanka added.

Her aim in life

Priyanka wants to work for the slum community in India. “I want to work with kids in the education sector in India. There is a lot to be done for the government schools and low-income schools there, to ensure that kids like me, who come from poor backgrounds are not stopped in anyway from going ahead in life. I have a special connection with my country and I want to work for my people. This will give me the ultimate happiness and satisfaction.”

Her universal message is: ” You have to be happy in whatever work you are doing. Personal satisfaction is very important for me. When you are satisfied, it brings you happiness. So make the best use of your resources and continue to be happy.”

She has become the first person in her family to study at college. From a slum in India, Priyanka has now evolved into a mature, positive and inspiring teenager who is now gearing up to study liberal arts at the Franklin and Marshall college in Pennsylvania, US.

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