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World-Class Indian Boarding Gives 16-Year-Old Student Unique Opportunities

Shanti

The Huffington Post   First Posted: 03/22/11 08:03 PM ET Updated: 05/25/11 07:40 PM ET

This post is part of our month-long series featuring Greatest Women of the Day, in recognition of Women's History Month.

To nominate a Greatest Woman of the Day, e-mail Impact@huffingtonpost.com.

This month, we're covering women making change -- big and small -- around the world. Today, in partnership with She's The First, we're featuring a letter from a young Indian woman, Jancy Paul Vincent. Below, she shares her story, goals and role models.

My name is Jancy. I am 16. My mom is a single parent and I have two older brothers. I was born in a small village in the Hassan district of the Karnataka state, in India.

When I was three and a half, I joined Shanti Bhavan, a non-secular residential school for socially and economically disadvantaged children. Shanti Bhavan is a unique institution, where we are given not only a quality education, but taught globally shared values, such as humility, generosity, and acceptance. Joining Shanti Bhavan was perhaps the most significant, life-changing event in my life.

I have stayed at Shanti Bhavan for almost 13 years now, and it is like my second home. Here, I have the biggest family ever; we are all bound by our love for one another. There is something about Shanti Bhavan that is special -- almost divine -- and difficult to express in words.

Shanti Bhavan is a part of me. Sometimes, I wonder how I am going to handle it when I wake up one morning and realize I have graduated.

After all, it is here that I have learned everything from the alphabets in the English language to the literature of Shakespeare. It is here that I received my first toothbrush, my first warm bed, and my first shampoo. It is where I tasted pancakes for the first time.

All of the students at school are taken care of by our housemothers. Our teaching staff is comprised of Indian teachers, as well as volunteers from various parts of the world and all walks of life, who greatly enrich our education and broaden our perspectives.

We are taught from a very early age not to discriminate against one another. We respect all religions and are free to practice our own. We have the freedom to voice our own opinions. And, furthermore, we are asked to have opinions on world issues.

For these reasons and more, I feel that Shanti Bhavan has impacted my life in a genuinely positive way. If it weren't for this institution, I wouldn't have been given an opportunity to become who I am today: strong, brave, and courageous enough to make the right decisions. When I wonder what I would have been like had I not come to Shanti Bhavan, I become emotional. It is difficult to predict -- perhaps my family would still be living in a convent, or perhaps I would be working alongside my mother, who cares for handicapped children to sustain a living. Or perhaps I would be attending school -- a government-run school, where there would be a poor quality of education.

I am almost a senior now, and grateful to everyone at Shanti Bhavan who continues to inspire me each day to move forward. I am studying Accounting, Economics, and Commerce and preparing to take the ISC exam next year, considered among the most challenging in India.

To me, education is the key to the many doors I want to open. I want to be the first girl in my family to go to college. I want to get my Master's degree. I want to combine the fields of business and fashion someday. I want to find success to improve the status of my family. I want to continue the Shanti Bhavan dream. From my school song, I will always take with me:

"This is a precious moment; we've only just begun. There's a long, long way to go, before our day is done. We cannot see tomorrow; yesterday is but a dream. Today's really what matters."

Jancy Paul Vincent is an 11th grader at the Shanti Bhavan Residential School in India, a partner of She's the First, the organization that has sponsored her education this year. Shanti Bhavan is best known as being the only world-class boarding school of its kind in India to take in children of the "Untouchable" caste. To sponsor all or part of a girl's education at Shanti Bhavan, or to learn more about Jancy's accomplishments, visit shesthefirst.org.

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