From village teacher to college student: Prem Kumar ’26 empowers kids to pursue education

Kumar+founded+his+own+educational+organization+in+order+to+allow+more+students+from+his+hometown+to+go+to+school.+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Lafayette+Dyer+Center%29

Kumar founded his own educational organization in order to allow more students from his hometown to go to school. (Photo courtesy of Lafayette Dyer Center)

The word “extraordinary” does not seem sufficient to describe the accomplishments of Prem Kumar ‘26. Hailing from the underprivileged village of Gonpura in the state of Bihar, India, Kumar is the son of a wage worker and the first in his family to attend college.

“I used to study under a shed,” Kumar said. “It was so difficult for me because there was no one in the family to cook so I used to cook food first and then … deliver that food to my parents wherever they were working. Then I would go to school.”

Kumar completed his primary education with non-governmental organization Shoshit Seva Sangh, and his high school education at Shoshit Samadhan Kendra, a residential school.

Because of his own negative experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kumar founded his own educational organization – the Apni Shiksha Foundation – in spring 2020. 

“[My organization] has impacted more than twenty villages. What my organization does is that we bring education to those underprivileged kids whose lives have not been touched by education yet,” he said. 

Recognizing that education is an invaluable asset in transforming one’s circumstances, Kumar aimed to instill motivation in the students he interacted with.

“I will not let other … students’ education be disturbed. So I started teaching kids in my village,” he said.

Kumar’s hard work has culminated in his reception of Lafayette’s prestigious Dyer Fellowship, being one of only eight Lafayette freshmen to receive the honor for this year. He was also the first of the “Mahadalit,” the umbrella term used to describe the lowest castes in Bihar, to earn this prestigious award.

Dyer Fellows are eligible for four years of financial support and work with the center to hone their entrepreneurial capacities. They attend professional and academic workshops, as well as receive a monthly stipend and a developmental grant.

All of Kumar’s accomplishments come amid significant hardship. 

“When I was three months old, I lost both of my parents and my elder brother so I was left all alone in my family. So like, there on my uncle and aunt actually raised me up and they brought me up with whatever the possibilities they had,” Kumar said.

Kumar, who is studying mechanical engineering and international affairs, hopes his education will have positive implications for his village and the world more broadly.

“If you’re working something truly beautiful, truly meaningful, it will help a lot,” Kumar said.