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MSU researcher supports girls' education in India
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Aparna Krishnavajhala is a postdoctoral researcher at Mississippi State University who practices giving back year-round as she works from Starkville to aid the education of girls in India.
Krishnavajhala came to MSU in 2007 with a master’s degree in microbiology and biotechnology from India. At the College of Veterinary Medicine, she earned a doctoral degree in veterinary medical sciences before she switched departments. In the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, she is completing postdoctoral work studying the effects of nematodes on plants.
“The ultimate goal of this work is to get high yield from soybeans,” Krishnavajhala said. “We need farmers to get good profits because they are the ones who feed the world.”
While this is interesting and important work, her real passion lies in the education of young people, especially girls, in her home country.
“If a family in India has a boy and a girl, her education would be sacrificed for the boy,” Krishnavajhala said. “My family stands out. They made sure I was able to get as much of an education as I wanted. My father has always been like that.”
Neither of her parents have college degrees, but they made education possible for all five of their children. Krishnavajhala, the second youngest, has an older sister in Atlanta, a younger brother in New Jersey and two more siblings in India.
“I struggled so much with my education,” Krishnavajhala said. “In my village, school only goes until seventh grade. After that, I stayed with an aunt for eighth through 10th grade at one school, and I was in a dorm for 11th and 12th at another school.
“It was not very easy, but I had a lot of support from my family,” she said. “Many parents would not let their girls go on and study what they wanted, but mine did.”
Although the school in her home village of Chandavaram in rural southern India now has a school that offers classes through 10th grade, girls still do not have many educational options. Even the boys do not always have supplies to make their education possible.
“The school in my village is a public school. That means the education is free, but that doesn’t mean everybody can afford book bags, shoes, proper clothes and books,” Krishnavajhala said. “When you don’t have at least the minimum things, how can a student learn? When I was going to school, my parents made sure I had what was needed. Others don’t always have that.”
Krishnavajhala’s family donated the land where this village school is located, and until his death in 2009, her father “was the backbone of that school,” she said.
Her older sister began providing financial support and fundraising to meet the needs of children at the school, and then Krishnavajhala started giving back to the school in 2010 while she was still in college. Most of the family’s efforts to support the school are very personal. Their initial fundraising involved asking just their own friends or extended family to donate for a specific cause.
“One time I wanted to provide shoes for the students. I had never asked for donations before, but I have many friends, and I sent them a message that it costs $5 per pair,” she said. “I would ask them to donate $5 or more. In just three months, I collected the money for 270 pairs of shoes.”
Krishnavajhala sends as much of her own money back home as she can. The funds help children, especially girls, in her village have the opportunity for an education. Her efforts go well beyond fundraising. Krishnavajhala has a speaking engagement with the school via speakerphone at least once a semester.
“I talk to the headmaster and he tells me what concerns the students have, and then I talk to them about those concerns,” she said. “I speak to them about how to go further in their education and what they need to do to go on to college.”
She and her husband, a data analyst from India working in Atlanta, have even bigger dreams for the educational opportunities of people in their country. They want to start an education center in India to prepare college students to earn advanced degrees internationally.
“I would like to give students training in some practical aspects not covered in bachelor’s or master’s degrees in India. The studies there cover theory but are not practical,” Krishnavajhala said.
This education center would give the students opportunities to conduct research and practice lab techniques they may have studied about but never tried.
But in the meantime, they are spending much of their own money to do what they can to help her hometown school provide the best possible education to all students. Their efforts have been formalized in the KMVP Rural India Education Foundation.
“We need to provide tables, chairs and desks for students and teachers. That is the next project,” she said. “We need to fulfill that first, and then we need to save some money for our own project.”
Karin Lee was president of the Starkville Multi-Culture Lions Club at MSU when the club adopted the KMVP Rural India Education Foundation as a project.
“We raised money for the school and also serve as a collection point for other donations made for the school,” Lee said. “We have officially adopted the school as a project because it is one of our own. One of our own students is involved in this.
“Her father was instrumental in the smooth running of the school, and when he passed away, she adopted it and tried to keep in going. We thought this was a natural progression.”
Lee said the Starkville Multi-Culture Lions Club was founded in 2008 and has about 40 members at any given time. Members have come from 28 countries and include MSU students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the Starkville community.
“One of the things that our club is really proud of is we are trying to do local things, but also trying to reach out,” Lee said.
Each year they take on local, statewide, national and international service projects. In addition to the KMVP Rural India Education Foundation, these projects include an adopted two-mile stretch of Highway 12 and financial support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and the Mid-South Eye Bank.