At 37, Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey feels recognition for him has come early in a country where there are scores of more deserving people involved in
selfless social work.
Pandey quit a lucrative career overseas to found an NGO -- Asha -- for educating under-privileged children.
"It took over two days for my family and volunteers at Asha to convince me that this award would not just be a ceremonial thing, but would give credence to my work as well," Pandey said.
Pandey said he never imagined that the work he started with two fellow NRI students from California 11 years ago would earn him international recognition.
"At that time it was primarily the concern of contributing something for the [development] of children back home that had led us to establish the organisation," he says of Asha founded in 1991 for educating and running livelihood projects for
children in Uttar Pradesh.
Today, Asha has spread its wings all over the globe with at least 35 chapters in the United States, and a few in Hong Kong, Australia and some other countries.
In India, Asha funds as many as 120 projects in Guwahati, Chennai, Kanpur and Mumbai, besides running schools in quake-hit Kutch, riot-hit parts of Gujarat and insurgency infested areas of Assam.
Pandey, who won the award in the emergent leadership category, did his mechanical engineering from the Benaras Hindu University and completed a doctorate from the University of California-Berkley.
The idea of quitting a permanent job to get involved in spreading education among Dalit children did not find favour with his father. But his mother, Uma provided the support as she saw shades of her own father, a prominent social worker, in Sandeep.
His work is not just confined to bread and butter issues or livelihood projects. A man of strong political views, he took up the fight against communalism in the aftermath of the Babri demolition in 1992.
He is now planning a 'padayatra' from Delhi to Pakistan's port city of Karachi through Punjab and Kashmir sometime in 2004 or 2005.
A strong votary of peace, Pandey is critical of the country's nuclear policy and holds the "wrong policies" of the governments of India and Pakistan responsible for the deteriorating ties between the two nations.
He said by making A P J Abdul Kalam the country's President, the government had tried to justify its nuclear policies. Asha is committed to working for nuclear
disarmament, he added.
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