University of Victoria student Mirali Shukla is not only invested in her own education, but in the education of thousands around the world.
At 21 years, Shukla is founder and CEO of the Kind Learning Organization, a not-for-profit that pushes to make education more affordable and accessible to children living in the small island nation of Vanuatu.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in children’s education,” Shukla says. “It’s so important that every child has the opportunity to go to school.”
Before building her organization, Shukla started out as a member of Youth for Humanity and Akshaya Patra in India. Youth for Humanity is a not-for-profit run by youth volunteers committed to positive world change. Akshaya Patra focuses on decreasing dropout rates and impoverishment in Indian children.
“In these organizations, I helped raise awareness for causes,” Shukla says. Her interest in the country Vanuatu was sparked by her involvement in the charities, as well as her own research.
“When I found out about the educational needs of the country, I realized I needed to do something. This was my cause,” she says.
Vanuatu is a country of about 80 islands situated in the tropical South Pacific, a popular vacation destination and home to thousands of native peoples.
“What people don’t realize is the lack of education available there,” Shukla explains.
The gap between average family income and average tuition is often large, meaning that many children are unable to attend school.
Shukla began her efforts by reaching out to authorities in charitable organizations, cold-calling and emailing to find out more about Vanuatu’s needs. “I asked for specifics: What can I do? Where can I start?” Her contacts were eager to help, many requesting to be involved themselves.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to go through prospects and pick out the most passionate and most available. I selected a team of people who could offer the most to the organization.”
Shukla’s team formed the Vanuatu advisory board for the Kind Learning Organization. She and Philip Wester, another university student involved from the beginning, partnered as board of directors.
“I am so grateful for everyone’s help,” Shukla says. “I’m going to Vanuatu for the first time this November, and we’re hoping to get a clearer idea of how to go about improving the educational system from there.”
While in Vanuatu, Shukla will visit several of the schools on her roster and meet with the country’s director general and director of education to discuss strategies for making education more readily available to children.
She and her team hope to film a short documentary during their stay. “Our goal is to get public awareness on the subject. Without public awareness, we won’t be able to get public support.”
For Shukla, the encouraging responses she receives drives her work.
“Sometimes the office work I do feels menial, like I’m not doing a lot,” she says. “But I get such warm responses. That’s the most rewarding part: the letters from Vanuatu. The teachers are so appreciative of what our organization is doing.”
This holiday season, Mirali hopes to return from Vanuatu and hold a public event in Victoria for the Kind Learning Organization.