A Teach for India fellow, Devanik Saha, found it difficult to leave the children he was teaching as part of the program, and also to stop teaching, once it came to an end. He also had a strong urge to do something more for the community he had come to love, especially the girls, who faced the most neglect and discrimination. Thus began Unnayan, a learning hub for these kids to come to after school and supplement their education and understanding, a dire need considering the state of most government-run schools in our nation. Here, Devanik recounts his journey so far.
Teaching Class 4E in MCD Pratibha Nigam Vidalaya in Sangam Vihar, an unauthorized colony in New Delhi, I witnessed the innumerable hurdles that exist for students enrolled in government-run schools looking for a meaningful education. In government schools in Sangam Vihar, there is an acute dearth of teachers with around 15 teacher vacancies in the school I taught and, unfortunately, even those few students who have the privilege of having a teacher present are not taught properly. Additionally, the prevalent gender discrimination results in neglect of girls’ education.
As a result, many promising girls are denied opportunities to receive wholesome education, severely denting their chances to improve their lives. Since my Teach For India fellowship period was coming to an end, I did not want to leave my students and certainly could not think of not teaching anymore. There was an urge to continue somehow. With this in mind, I approached one of my friends Swati, who used to volunteer in my class during her vacations and discussed the idea of starting a learning center in Sangam Vihar to make an impact. Thus, Swati and I decided to take the plunge and co-founded Unnayan instead of taking up offers of Masters in Development Studies with Sussex University and Masters in Social Policy at LSE respectively.
But the step wasn’t as easy as we had envisioned it to be. Every project needs funds to start-off and run, and same was the case with us. We struggled to raise funds for running the pilot which was supposed to be 2 months long. I called every possible number on my cellphone, emailed every possible id and met every possible person I could to explain about my project and get the seed fund. Finally after 2 months of intense efforts, we managed to raise around INR 60,000 for getting the project off the ground.
Through Unnayan, we support promising girls in low-income communities to extract the maximum benefit from their school education and become an educational community hub for girls in the community by supporting them in their education through after-school learning centers. It is an after-school-learning-hub focused towards educating girls to aid their school education. Currently, two programs are running at the center: 1) Early Childhood Program (Nursery- Class 2, Rs 180/month), 2) Elementary Education Program (Class 3-8, Rs 250/Month) with 27 and 66 kids enrolled in each respectively. The monthly fee collected from the students is used to sustain the center for various expenses such as resources, rent, maintenance and logistics.
The learning hub supports these girls with a platform which can help them to get the most out of their school education and acts as a supplement. With a strong focus on using activity and game based learning for primary-level girls (majorly government school girls due to lack of quality education), belonging to both English and vernacular medium, we try to support their academic growth. The venture’s long term vision is to scale to more centers and recruit teachers from the community itself and train them through various support structures to teach at the centers, once it gets more funding through donors and organizations. Going forward, Unnayan plans to employ a hybrid model of having a for-profit arm which would be enough to sustain each center individually as well as a non-profit arm which would raise grants and funds to scale and hire staff for coordinating the activities.
The whole experience of starting up a learning center in a low income community challenges you every day. We have to manage things like wading through knee-deep dirty water on rainy days, explaining to impatient parents about the learning process of their children and cleaning up the center by ourselves.
Apart from teaching, our team has been quite active in engaging the community, organizing a girls’ education campaign and a first of its kind self-defence camp for the women and girls of the community which received tremendous response. Starting with just 5 students, we now cater to around 90+ students. Unnayan has been featured in several mainstream publications and has been recognized as an educational innovation by Centre for Educational Innovation, an initiative of Results for Development Institute. You can follow our progress on Facebook.