GEORGE TOWN: Teaching is often described as a noble profession and to some, a calling that they devote their entire lives to.
This is much the case with 23-year-old Priyanka Vairavasundaram, who recently received UK’s Diana Award for her tireless work in motivating and coaching academically weak students from poor families.
In the past six years, this Penangite has been delivering motivational speeches along with her father R Vairavasundaram, 59, bringing hope, confidence and encouragement to students who felt intimidated by their studies or lacked belief in their academic potential.
Priyanka said her interest in helping others took root when she was 14 after attending a motivational camp. “I was an average student back then. But the camp really gave me a new outlook on life and how to be more positive.
“However, I realised that these motivational talks only reached the richer section of society and were often expensive.
“So, we decided to carry out free motivational talks for poor deserving students, through donations,” she said, of the NGO she started with her father called SPARK.
Using SPARK, Priyanka began conducting free two-day “student success programmes” for those with low passing grades who were sitting for examinations. The results, she says, have been astounding.
Since 2015, she has coached close to 4,000 students from schools in Penang and Kedah, transforming them from mediocre to “straight As” students.
Priyanka said her father was instrumental in the success of her NGO, as he is a trainer and motivational speaker himself.
“I picked up my skills from my dad as I often joined him for his talks. After engaging with the students out there, I realised that I was destined to bring change to their lives,” she explained, adding that she found the work both fulfilling and enjoyable.
More recently, Priyanka helped turn around the grades of a low-achieving Year Six class at a Tamil school here.
After working with her and her team of five volunteers, many in the class obtained passing grades in Maths, with some even scoring 90% in the subject. The class of 20 also passed all their other subjects, a far cry from only three who aced their examinations earlier.
Priyanka’s work eventually caught the eye of local activist Anwar Fazal, who nominated her for the prestigious Diana Award, established in memory of the late Princess Diana of Wales.
The award, supported by Diana’s children, Prince William and Prince Harry, is presented to individuals aged nine to 25, in recognition of the social work they do that uphold the late princess’ belief that youths have the power to change the world.
Vairavasundaram, a former national sportsman and now a martial arts trainer said he was proud of his daughter’s achievement.
He said Priyanka and her sister, Kowsalya, 20, have been assisting him in his decade-long self-motivational programme called “Zero to Hero”, that strives to keep young people from poor families from becoming delinquents and social outcasts.
“We find poor and vulnerable young students and guide them through martial arts,” he explained.
Amazingly, Priyanka juggles her social work with the demands of pursuing a chemical engineering degree at the Monash University in Petaling Jaya.
This year, 184 recipients were presented with the Diana Award through an online ceremony. Three were Malaysian. Besides Priyanka, Nelson Ng Jia Jun, 23, of Pontian, Johor, and Prevena Ramakrishnan, 17, from Kulim, Kedah were named recipients.
The awards were live-streamed on YouTube, due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Ng was recognised for his work in providing digital mentorship for underprivileged students while Prevena advocates for more girls to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.