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From the Ground Up: Ananya Tiwari and SwaTaleem

by Office of Communications, U of I Enrollment Management / Jul 21, 2022

Classroom in India and Ananya Tiwari

Like every child, Educational Psychology doctoral student Ananya Tiwari grew up playing and going to school with her neighbors and other children her age. When she was old enough to go to college, she left her hometown in Uttar Pradesh, India, for Delhi, where she was able to attend a good university.

“And then I came back,” Ananya says, “And I slowly started observing that the children I played with when I was young were all working. And our lives looked very different.”

Ananya had not grown up in a particularly wealthy family, but she had experienced a middle-class upbringing that had allowed her access to a range of different opportunities and resources, including her college education. Not all of her friends and neighbors had been able to do the same.

“I kind of started sensing the disparities and inequalities [around me] through this particular experience,” Ananya says. 

Some of the starkest inequalities she observed in her community were gender-based. All around her, Ananya saw women and girls struggling with obstacles their male peers didn’t have to face.

“Uttar Pradesh is highly patriarchal,” Ananya says. “There’s a lot of gender-based violence.” 

Having grown up there, Ananya was no stranger to the concept.

“A lot of these experiences are also my own, although certainly lesser than the girls I work with,” Ananya says. “And so I think gender became important to me, because it was personal.”

Ananya decided that she wanted to make a difference for the girls and women in her community. She was determined to do what she could to give them access to an education and other valuable resources. 

“You keep thinking about what you want to do in life, and how you can give meaning to it,” she says. “And [I thought] perhaps this is one way in which I can do that.”

Ananya got to work. In August of 2018, she and a classmate, Vaibhav, created the nonprofit organization SwaTaleem. The name itself is a combination of ‘Swa’ from Sanskrit, meaning ‘to own,’ and ‘Taleem,’ or ‘education’ in Arabic. Put together, it translates into owning your education. It’s a fitting name for an organization devoted to enhancing the educational and life opportunities of historically marginalized adolescent girls in India.

Read the rest of Ananya's Illinois Journeys story...