A visually challenged young man with a passion for education and a youth facilitator from Hyderabad are among 60 people from across the globe who were presented medals for their exemplary work by Queen Elizabeth at the Buckingham Palace.
The two Indians are Kartik Sawhney (21) and Neha Swain (28). Launched in 2014 by the Duke of Cambridge and Prince Harry, each year from 2014 to 2018, 60 exceptional young people are selected to receive a Queen’s Young Leaders Award and become ‘Queen’s Young Leaders’ – one for every year that she has served as head of the Commonwealth at the time of her Diamond Jubilee.
Sawhney is described as being passionate about universal access to education. Although he was born blind, he excelled in science and technology at school. However, he discovered that blind students were prevented from pursuing science after Class 10.
After appealing, Sawhney enrolled as India’s first Class 11 blind science student. He faced similar challenges when trying to enter engineering colleges, so in 2013 he took up a scholarship at Stanford University.
He founded Project STEMAccess, which offers hands-on science workshops in India, as well as virtual training sessions. He is working on a portal that will allow students to convert textbooks into their desired accessible format.
Swain has worked as a youth facilitator for five years. Two years ago, she co-founded an NGO called Rubaroo, which aims to provide an inclusive space for young people, irrespective of their socio-economic background to develop their leadership skills through interactive workshops.
The team provides workshops in schools which cannot afford such programmes free of charge. It has so far worked with nearly 2,000 young people in Hyderabad.
The Queen’s Young Leaders programme aims to discover, celebrate and support young people from every Commonwealth nation. The awardees are chosen for having transformed their own lives and the lives of those around them, despite challenges they may have faced along the way.