‘The Importance of Volunteer Work’

Gayatri Sapru applied for her MSc in Social Anthropology at St Hilda’s while she was living in India. Here is her story:


Coming to Oxford has been more than a life experience for me. As a child, Oxford was the only university that I could name; it existed as a magical land of possibilities. Growing up, I was always a good student, but I found myself looking for more. I learned foreign languages and took courses that everyone told me would not amount to anything in ‘the real world’, but I believe that knowledge, of any kind, is never wasted. This is the spirit I have found at the University of Oxford, a place where unbelievably talented people fill up each classroom with their enthusiasm and world experience. The professors and their commitment to encourage each student to develop a love for learning is perhaps unmatched anywhere else in the world.

Getting to Oxford was not an easy task, because like many others I too believed that it was the privilege of the financially fortunate only. I was adamant I would not attend without a scholarship, but unfortunately there was no financial support available in any form for my degree and my subject. I wrote letters to famous personalities and industrialists for any kind of help they could provide but that didn’t work out at all. Eventually, I entered an essay writing competition about the importance of volunteer work in the world and won a cash prize which was a relief because I finally felt like I was recognized as being worthy of an excellent education.

I have been involved in development related work all of my adult life. At the age of 16, I became a volunteer teacher with an NGO called Akanksha, which provided after school tuition for children that lived in slums. I spent more than five years teaching here, an experience that enriched me in ways that I am yet to comprehend fully. Seeing children coming from houses with no water and electricity, children faced with abuse and neglect on a daily basis made me compassionate and grateful for the opportunities I had taken for granted. I saw that despite all odds, these children wanted to be good, to get an education and to rise above their circumstances and I knew that education was the one and only sure shot way of doing that.

Alongside, I have worked with other NGOs on research projects ranging from analyzing the impact of media on people’s attitudes to projects where I was responsible for reconstructing histories of subjugated tribes so as to empower them and make them know their true worth. I believe that development work can never be over.

At Oxford, I am truly astonished to see the amount of time and resources that the University invests in being accessible to all students, regardless of their ability to pay. Because knowledge is power, we have to work harder to empower as many people as possible without regard to their background or bank account. This is the task that the University has taken upon itself and I am honoured to be a small part of this endeavor. My life’s ambition is to enable students from all across the world to have access to world-class education and taking part in this Ambassador program has only helped strengthen my resolve.


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