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I Learn Anew Every Day - Kevin Mathew

Reshmi Naveen Gopal
Sunday, October 15, 2017

I Learn Anew Every Day - Kevin Mathew

Kevin Mathew was the youngest (and only Indian) TEDx speaker at TEDxAlShuwaikh, Kuwait, on September 16, 2017, a platform that facilitates the integration of Technology, Entertainment and Design and many more topics and ideas.

Currently, Kevin is pursuing his A-Levels in Further Mathematics, Economics, Physics and Chemistry at New English School, Kuwait. He is also the current Head Boy at his school and he aspires to pursue an Engineering degree in the United States of America. He is passionate about different subjects from science to history to languages and more

Apart from his usual school work, Kevin is the founder of the Tareq Rajab student Docent Program at the Tareq Rajab Museum, in Kuwait. The Tareq Rajab Docent program has a central aim of spreading the art, history and culture of the Middle East with Kuwait’s population, especially the teenage demographic. It is the first student-led docent program in Kuwait, and perhaps in the Middle East, and operates at the Tareq Rajab Museum and the Tareq Rajab Islamic Calligraphy Museum. The program organizes fun brainstorming sessions, workshops and learnings games at the museum itself. One of their achievements include hosting a fun filled event in February 2017 where students, teachers, families, and seven international ambassadors, including the Indian ambassador Mr. Sunil Jain, attended. He has established a footprint amongst the youth of Kuwait, his school, and Indians at a young age. Furthermore, Kevin has been an active volunteer at various charity works and he has been a campaigner of e-learning. His father, Soly Mathew, is a banker in Kuwait, working for Gulf Bank, and his mother, Bency Mathew, is a homemaker.

In an exclusive chat with, he spoke to Reshmi Naveen Gopal. Here are the excerpts from the interview:

You are the only Indian who spoke at the last conference of TEDx in Kuwait. How do you feel about it?

Aha! It was certainly a very fulfilling experience! It was a dream for me to speak on TEDx from a young age! I’ll be honest, as I was the youngest speaker, I was very nervous – It isn’t easy to speak in front of such a distinguished crowd. Fortunately, the talk went well. It was a big opportunity for me to learn from the other speakers too. It will always be a day that I’ll cherish.

Regarding the TEDx talk, my topic was “Turning Challenges into Opportunities”. To do this, I used my own personal experience from the docent program that I initiated at the Tareq Rajab Museum – Tareq Rajab Docent Program. This program now operates across the Tareq Rajab Museum and the Tareq Rajab Islamic Calligraphy Museum. As a whole, the talk is a story on how I got involved with, and came to love, the history, art, and culture of the Middle East.

How did the opportunity of speaking at TEDx strike you?

To say the truth, over the Summer break (2017), after establishing the Tareq Rajab Docent Program, my aim was to write an article for the newspaper. It was my mentor Dr. Susan Day, the Education Director at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, who gave me an idea of speaking at the TEDx event. Hence, after a few emails and meetings, I submitted my project to the TEDx team. They liked my plan and, after a few more meetings, I got to speak!

You are known as the founder of Tareq Rajab Docent Program. What gave you the idea to start this program in the first place?

It was a long journey... At age 14, I interned at the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah museum. It was a rewarding opportunity as a student. I absolutely loved the experience - it was life changing – I got to learn so much! However, I wanted to spread my passion into the Tareq Rajab Museum. With the support of my school teachers, I met the Directors of Tareq Rajab Museum and suggested that we have a similar program. Due to Dr. Ziad Rajab and Mrs. Nur Rajab’s support, trust, and guidance, the plan moved forward and became a reality. That is the story of how the Tareq Rajab Docent Program was born.

How did you get involved with the Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah docent programme at such a young age?

I saw an advertisement in a newspaper and applied. After a period of training, I entered as a docent. This program is offered to anyone in Kuwait. Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah’s docent program is called DAI YouThink Kuwait Council.

How would you describe the experience of a museum docent?

As mentioned before, I am a docent at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah for the last three years. Also, I’m a docent at the Tareq Rajab Museum. When I first joined Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, I was just a confused student looking for something new and exciting. At Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah, I have gained an enormous amount of knowledge about the art and cultural heritage of the Arab world and beyond. I always learn something new every day here and I learn a lot from the museum visitors. It gave me an opportunity to venture outside classroom borders and into a realm of knowledge without boundaries. It is a very fulfilling program, I would definitely recommend all students to join as a docent (either at Tareq Rajab Museum or Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah)

Funnily, once when the wife of the Defence Minister of France came to Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah for a tour, I got the opportunity to meet her and show her around. After her return to France, she sent an email thanking me for the wonderful time she had at the museum! It’s these kind gestures from visitors that keep driving me, adding fuel to my engine. Furthermore, in February of 2016, I also organized a family day at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah. It was the experience at Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah that inspired me to initiate the Tareq Rajab student Docent program.

The experience of initiating the Tareq Rajab Docent Program is an unforgettable one. We, as a team, spent hours and hours of our free time dedicated to the program. The students we trained loved the experience and I saw them grow as knowledgeable young adults with a strong grasp of their heritage - the future leaders of tomorrow. This academic year, we are doubling the amount of student docents and host more great events.

As a volunteer to the Vidya Foundation Cochin, you visited and interacted with numerous economically disadvantaged students at rural schools in India. How did this affect you?

During my summer vacation, while visiting Kerala, I heard about Vidya Foundation Cochin; I read their mission statement and connected with it immediately. Vidya Foundation Cochin is a Registered Trust formed in June 2011 as a Public Charitable Trust mainly to provide educational assistance to poor children studying in Govt. Schools and Aided Schools in Kerala. Today, I am registered as their lifelong volunteer. Our aim is to help very poor students who are capable of excellent performance and lead them to complete their schooling with excellent grades. Truly, it was a joy to help out, talk and indulge in the stories of the students - some of them who were my age. Similar to me in their dreams and passions - pursuing to be future doctors, engineers, police officers etc. Most of the students in the school are from economically very weak backgrounds and are first generation students. Their parents mostly work as fishermen and labourers and therefore they do not have enough time for their children.

I noticed that even though there were many real and unnerving issues being faced by the students, their manner of dealing with them was something all of us should learn.Nothing could match the smiles and excitement of the children when they ran along the movement of the camera. That is when I realized that a trip to a village is more fulfilling than any fancy or luxurious trip around the world.

Although the school may lack in many amenities, it was filled with ambitious. Learners. Speakers. Dreamers. One thing they all had in common was their unique personality and the sheer amount of love that kindled in their eyes. Despite their scarcities, these students thrive when given the opportunity. The bright (and adorable) students in the primary schools of Kerala share an enthusiasm for learning and a competitive spirit that shined through the dimly-lit classrooms when I arrived. These visits showed me a side of life I could never have imagined. They made me thankful for my plentiful opportunities in Kuwait and optimistic about India’s future.

Unlike most other students of your age, you were celebrating your eighteenth birthday in an old age home for the mentally challenged in India. We would like to know your experience with them. And how did this idea arise?

Apart from the usual birthday cake and singing, I wanted to do something different on my 18th birthday. The night before my birthday, I made up my mind that I would visit a home for the mentally challenged. Next day, I went there with gifts and cakes and I spent the rest of the day with them. We shared a meal together too! Truly, I was inspired by the strong willpower and resilience of the Catholic convent’s sisters running the old age home as it certainly is not an easy job to communicate with the patients there. Personally, it was a powerful reminder to never take anything for granted.

You have been a crusader to E-learning. As an educationalist how do you think it will help in student empowerment?

After visiting the rural schools in India, I heard about the MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) solve competition and I decided to participate. My aim is to help promote education and solve education problems in the less economically developed countries. My idea was to design and create a platform to connect the education powerhouses like MIT, Cambridge, Stanford etc. with NGOs like Vidya Foundation. Then, they can utilise this platform to cater to the needs of the poorest schools around the world and assist in e-learning programs. Through such programs and initiatives, it can help students from less privileged backgrounds to gain access to and utilize such systems of learning. This can be particularly useful for students to further their interests and deepen their knowledge on topics that may not study in their respective schools. I started working on this project in August but school started by October and this project got a bit delayed.

How can more Indian youngsters be part of the docent programs here in Kuwait?

They can apply to The Tareq Rajab Docent Program or Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah museum in Kuwait. They often advertise opportunities in newspapers and their websites.

Are you a voracious reader? What kind of books do you like to read?

Yes, I am. I like novels, autobiographies, science based books etc. In fact, two of my favorite books are the Alchemist, Paulo Coelho and Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel authored by Michio Kaku. The Alchemist is about creating your own destiny and finding your own identity. Whereas Physics of the Impossible is a book that it breaks down complicated formulas and is A Scientific Exploration Into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel .

What is it you enjoy doing when you are not with your books or at museums?

Usually, I’m with my family and friends, playing the guitar or piano, or doing research online. At school, I actively participate in Model United Nations (MUN), which helps students learn about diplomacy and international relations. Fortunately, I have had the opportunity to visit Genoa with a team of students from my school to take part in MUN. Outside school, I have completed summer internships at Gulf bank and KPMG (Klynveld Peat Marvick Goerdeler) because of my interest in banking and financial consultancy. Furthermore, this summer, I did a course at the laboratory of Kuwait Oil Company (KOC); as an aspiring engineering student, it was a real eye-opener - I was enlightened.

What message do you have to give your fellow Indian students?

One thing I would say is to step out of your comfort zone and always be on the lookout for new opportunities. Also, get involved with as many activities as possible so you can explore new ideas and create new passions - there is no harm in trying. “Seek and you will find” are words to live by.

Reshmi Naveen Gopal is a freelance writer. She is a post graduate in Communication and Journalism. She has worked with main stream print media and online journals. She has been a faculty in communication and journalism at a couple of colleges.
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Sunday, October 15, 2017
@sonny, there is nothing wrong in getting education from prestigious universities in the world. But the question is after getting the education, he will work for his country or not...

I can read from this interview that he spend his 18th birthday with a Charity home, which is something we dont see in todays world. So I am sure this guy is something different.

All the best to Mr Kevin

Sunday, October 15, 2017
Again an USA enthusiast, when will the time come when the people will go to India to pursue higher studies ....

Such a talent lad but instead of finding his identity and making a name in his own motherland , he is also eyeing the greener pasture, sincerely there is nothing wrong about it .

i will him all the best for his endeavors

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