20-year ‘Shala’ lockdown ensures 120 poor children don’t miss school

Meach of us turns a blind eye to the children of street dwellers who are often seen wandering around and begging at traffic lights. But Abhijeet Pokharnikar, a social worker studying computer applications in Pune, did otherwise.

Since 2018, he has been working with Sindhutai Sapkal, a social worker known for her immense work in the education of orphaned children. “While working for the cause, I discovered the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) and one of its goals was to provide education to disadvantaged people,” said Abhijeet. The best India.

In July 2020, as COVID-19 lockdown restrictions eased, he, along with two friends from college, contacted the children of brickyard workers to educate them.

For almost a year, the activity has turned into Dada Chi Shala, meaning “big brother’s school”, which welcomes 120 disadvantaged children. These children belong to the Banjara tribe – a nomadic community, sex workers, garage workers, brickyard workers and slum workers. The school is spread over several regions including Saras Baug, Chhatrapati Shivaji Nagar, Market Yard, Tilekar Nagar, Vishrantwadi, Pirangut and Kudal in Sindhudurg district, Pune.

Enter mainstream education

Abhijeet with disadvantaged children.

“We started out teaching a handful of students in the Deccan region, and over the days we realized the conditions were darker than we had imagined. There weren’t many NGOs or social groups looking after their educational needs, ”says the 21-year-old.

Additionally, many students gave up during the lockdown because they couldn’t access smartphones to attend online classes. “Many communities also do not have adequate documents such as birth certificates, Aadhar cards or finances to access their children’s regular education,” he explains.

Abhijeet says he has decided to meet the educational needs of the students. “The UNSDG emphasizes the education of underprivileged children, and I thought about addressing the issue. In December, about 60 volunteers conducted a city-wide survey to identify 4,727 children falling into or out of education, ”he says.

He adds that a plan has been drawn up to teach them in their localities. “We started teaching children on Friday, Saturday and Sunday between 9 am and 12 noon. We wanted to enable them to be fluent in languages ​​and to learn the curriculum of other subjects such as math and science, ”he says.

As more and more volunteers joined in, they started reaching out to children in different parts of the city.

Snehal Bhosale, an IT professional, teaches children in the Vishrantwadi area. She says, “I have known Abhijeet for almost seven years now and joined her cause in October 2020. I teach students four times a week and have always wanted to help children from disadvantaged sections of society and contribute. on a small scale by providing them with books or other objects. But teaching offered better help.

“The confinement left free time for teaching and the children also made significant progress during these months,” she adds.

Free education for all

Sanjana Lad, a grade 6 student, says she interrupted her studies because she did not have access to a smartphone to take classes online. “My parents work as laborers and we are poor. But didi helped me in my studies. My younger brother and sister also attend classes because of his good teaching skills, ”she adds.

However, Snehal says the volunteers have faced many challenges and continue to try to improve the lives of these children.

“Many girls are not allowed to study because parents think their daughters will have no use in education after marriage. Many children sell junk to earn money and are less interested in studying, ”she says, adding that drug addicts and those involved in gambling, problems, discourage and influence children towards this mode as well. of life.

“Many experiences are demotivating and demoralizing. Sometimes parents need more conviction than children. In addition, the volunteers are spending out of their own pockets, ”she said, adding:“ Our struggles continue. “

But a year later, the shala is thriving with around 107 active volunteers teaching the children. They also try to organize the documents required for the children to enter mainstream education and also provide the children with textbooks.

Abhijeet says that while he aims to ensure that all disadvantaged children in Pune receive a formal education, his ultimate goal is to provide free education to these children without the need for documents.

If you are in Pune and would like to volunteer and help Abhijeet with his cause, call 7020396723.

Edited by Yoshita Rao

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