His Holiness the Dalai Lama-Sasakawa Education Scholarship

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India has the highest number of leprosy cases in the world, and discrimination and prejudice against persons affected leprosy and their families remains severe. In the days before a cure, those affected by the disease often formed their own settlements as they had nowhere else to go after being ostracized by their communities.

It is estimated that there are currently around 750 such colonies across India, with many who live there in difficult social and economic circumstances. Few young people have the opportunity for higher education, which makes it harder for them to find jobs that provide a stable income.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama-Sasakawa Education Scholarship began as a matching fund in 2014, when the 14th Dalai Lama visited a leprosy colony on the outskirts of Delhi with WHO Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination and Chairman of The Nippon Foundation Yohei Sasakawa. The Dalai Lama said he wanted to donate his book royalties to provide scholarships for children in the colonies and The Nippon Foundation decided to match the amount.

The Sasakawa-India Leprosy Foundation (S-ILF) serves as the secretariat for the scholarship program, which is being implemented with the cooperation of the Association of People Affected by Leprosy (APAL) and colony leaders in endemic states.  In April 2020, the project was transferred from The Nippon Foundation to the Sasakawa Health Foundation.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama (left) and WHO Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination Yohei Sasakawa

Each year, 25 young people from colonies in nine endemic states or union territories (Delhi, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, and Chhattisgarh) are awarded scholarships. In the sixth year of the program (FY2020), 173 applications were received and 25 students were selected through a screening and interview process.

Most of the scholarship recipients have to leave the colony where they were born and raised, taking up residence in university dormitories or boarding houses far from home. The change in environment and homesickness have led several to drop out because they were unable to focus on their studies.

To address this issue, S-ILF held an online workshop for the sixth-year intake in January 2021, providing a place for them to interact with each other. In addition, it is in regular contact with the scholarship recipients, offering advice and encouragement if they have any problems, and supporting them until they graduate.

So far, 124 young people have received scholarships to pursue higher education, and 21 of them have graduated and gone on to obtain jobs as engineers, teachers, nurses and flight attendants. They are steadily advancing in their careers while earning a stable income.

Every year, several more young people from the colonies will enter the workforce. We hope that by receiving an education and building a career in society, they will be able to look after themselves and their families, and break the cycle of poverty. We also hope that as they strive to realize their dreams, these scholarship recipients will become role models for other children in the colonies.

A scholarship recipient from the sixth year of the program (1)
A scholarship recipient from the sixth year of the program (2)