We have often heard the phrase ‘not all heroes wear capes’ and that is one way to describe the team effort of 17000ft. Words cannot express the resilience of the team as they slowly inch towards their dream of creating an educated Ladakh by beating the most harshest natural conditions imaginable in the Indian lanscape. Irked by the Ladakhi’s easy choice of profession as tour guides, Sujata had embarked on a journey in 2012 to create some scope of education in the remotest villages of Ladakh; it might even take 3-4 days to walk to certain schools since the roads are too bad for cars to travel.
Sujata Sahu is the leader whose tough as steel willpower has made it possible to have all the 1000 government and non-government schools of Ladakh to be mapped on Google; aptly named 17000ft, the organisation’s workforce is comprised mainly of Ladakhi people who are well educated about their land and culture and are motivated to bring out Ladakh from the veneer of isolation.
Sujata was kind enough to take some time out from her busy routine and give Footloose an insight into the process of managing a huge responsibility as 17000ft; what keeps her going and motivated despite facing natural obstacles on a daily basis? Her love for the land, since the days of her first solo trip had given birth to this beautiful venture called 17000ft; she and her team belive in the spirit of Ladakhi people who have not forgotten their culture.
The organisation has been assisted by UNICEF to manage a program for creating interactive school atmosphere that interests students to learn. Apart from that, mandatory hygiene values are instilled in each and every school. They have created over 250 libraries and is in the process of providing electricity to the schools. The smallest of the schools, with a student count of 6, to the biggest of schools benefit from their expansive programs; they often hold workshops and exchange programs where teachers from the remotest villages come to learn the chops to become better educators.
The children are treated to a better pre-school, they are being introduced to study digitally with tablets, schools are getting colorful makeovers and playgrounds, the hordes of books ranging from fiction to reference books are changing the way Ladakhis are perceiving education. Parents are more interested to send in their kids, now that they can hope for a better life for their children within the boundary of their very soil without having to migrate, looking for opportunities.
The families are helping to preserve Ladakhi culture by sharing their folklores for which there was no previous written account. Sujata and her team is pulling all stops to get those fables translated to Bhoti, their language, with illustrations that comply with the Ladakhi way of life. Infact they have teamed up with famous publishers like Scholastic, to get some of their titles translated into Bhoti as well.
As of 2018, Sujata and her team is working hand in hand with the government totrain better educators andbring better infrastructure to the schools in the harsh confines of Ladakh’s terrain.
Today, after 6 years 17000ft stands as tall as the Himalayas for being a linchpin in restructuring the social and educational infrastructure of Ladakh.