What do you think you will be doing in your Seventies? I imagine myself sitting back with a cup of tea and reminiscing about the years gone by. At 74 years of age, Snehlata Hooda is busy running and managing a school for the underprivileged children. With over four decades of experience teaching at the Delhi government school, Gaurav Maa as she is fondly referred to says, “social work is in my DNA.”
Holding fort at a makeshift school in Gurugram’s Sector 43, catering to children of domestic workers, daily wage labourers, rag pickers and other underprivileged communities, Gaurav Maa’s initiative has come a long way.
The school was set up in 2005 with barely 20 students, and today has over 200 students.
“Initially I would personally walk the streets and convince parents to send their children to my school. It was easier for parents to send these children out to work rather than waste their time in a school.” It took a long time to break this belief but Gaurav Maa has managed to do so.
Gaurav Maa belonged to an era when girls were not often allowed to do much, besides bear children and manage the home. “I lived in the purdah days. Girls were to cover their head and not speak in front of the men at all,” she recounts. “I was however lucky to be born to parents who were forward thinking. It was because of them that I got to see the inside of a school.”
She also fondly remembers her father and attributes a lot of what she has achieved today to his teachings and social activism.
“My father used to spend a lot of his time teaching the downtrodden during the British Raj period. It is from him that I get this zeal,” she says.
The school is currently being funded by Gaurav Maa’s pension and the financial assistance of various well-wishers. From time to time people also contribute by buying the stationery and books that the children use in school. When asked how she manages to run the school with her limited financial resources, she smiles and says, “A pure heart can move mountains. I truly believe that educating these children well is the only answer to a better future, and it is our duty to make that happen.”
Besides educating the children, the school also provides them with uniform, books, stationery and wholesome meals.
“We have also introduced taekwondo, sewing and painting activities for the children. It is essential that these children also get to experience a variety of activities. They will never get the opportunity elsewhere.”
The medium of instruction in this school is English, and Gaurav Maa takes great pride in it. “I want to ensure that these children have a rightful chance at a better future. They must be able to take higher examinations and do well.”
Gaurav Maa welcomes volunteers who can spend their time teaching the children. “One can also just teach them life-skills; how to shake hands, how to talk when in a group, how to eat. These are also very important for them,’ she says.
Gaurav Maa draws inspiration from Shantiniketan, the iconic institution set up by Rabindranath Tagore, and hopes that the students from the Gaurav Niketan will make their way to reputed universities and colleges for further studies.
For more information, head to their Facebook page. Contact Gaurav Maa via email: firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 9871091912 / 9818391118