Bengaluru is an ever-expanding city that attracts many migrant workers from various parts of the country. The nature of their work is such that they move from one place to another once the project sees completion.
Next time you drive around the city, do look out for the children of these migrant workers. You will find them helping around the site and sometimes playing by themselves near the construction sites.
These construction sites are certainly not the place where they should be spending their childhood.
It was the need to change this and incorporate some structure into their lives that led to the establishment of Diya Ghar – a school run exclusively for the children of the migrant labourers.
For Saraswthi Padmanabham and her husband, Shyamal Kumar setting up this school seemed to be a very obvious decision to make.
We, at The Better India, spoke to Saraswathi about the school, the children, and her plans for the future of Diya Ghar.
When asked what the motivation behind starting this school was, she said, “We started this school two years ago (2016) when we saw many young children (between the age group of 2 to 6) just playing around the construction sites because they had nowhere else to go.”
“We wanted to create a space where they could be at and also learn something constructive.”
Growing up Saraswathi says she was always exposed to the culture of social service and giving. “All of my birthdays, I remember, were celebrated at various children’s homes. I have grown up imbibing that in me. My first job was with an organisation that worked extensively with Mumbai street children. In the United States, I worked with prisoner’s children.”
Inception of Diya Ghar
The foundation of this school was established by selling off some ancestral property that Saraswathi had inherited. “We never thought for a second about it. We were very sure that this was what we are meant to be doing and thus started our school.”
The couple themselves have three children, aged eight, five, and four, and Saraswathi says she had thought she would wait until the youngest child turned 6 to start this school, but the circumstances at that were so compelling that they felt the need to start right then.
Speaking about the initial reservations that the parents had, she says, “We have had mixed responses from parents. When we started the school, the parents who were closest to the centre were extremely happy since they had a place to leave their kids while they went to work. Some others weren’t so thrilled about leaving their kids and asked us if we would set up a makeshift school at the construction site itself.”
“Our biggest marketers were the kids and their parents who were attending the school. They went around convincing the others about it and that is how we grew.”
Diya Ghar’s first students
Shwetha and Iresh were the first students at Diya Ghar, and their journey has been phenomenal says Saraswathi. They were a family of three children with Gayathri being the youngest, and they would accompany their parents to the construction site, like all other kids. They had come to Bengaluru from Raichur.
“Shwetha was four and a half, Iresh was three and Gayathri was one when we met them. Shwetha used to carry Gayathri into the site every day. The changes that we have seen in them is what keeps us going. They have physically grown, become healthier, and taller. We are now prepping Shwetha for grade 1 in the mainstream school,” says Saraswathi.
School as it is today
The school has 30 students who come in every morning at 8.30 a.m. They are picked up from their homes and brought to school. A quick wash and change later they are ready for their breakfast, which is usually porridge and fruit.
Until a little after noon they are immersed in their daily activities. Post which they all assemble for a sumptuous meal, which comes from an NGO called Yuvalok Foundation.
This is followed by nap-time after which they continue to do more activities until it is time to pack up for the day. They are also offered milk and a snack before they leave for the day.
Diya Ghar recently rented out a larger space and from March 2018 will be ready to welcome almost 60 students at their school. The school currently has four full-time teachers and two support staff.
Up until now friends and family have been coming forward to support the school financially. However with the number of kids increasing Saraswathi is looking for donors to come forward and support the school or even individual kids.
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