In the last five years, Maharashtra has had to deal with severe droughts thrice. And, of the 112 drought-struck talukas in the State, 40 per cent belong to Marathwada belt. Last year, districts in this belt, such as Beed, received less than half the average rainfall. It is in such dire conditions that the farmers are struggling to fund the education of their children who are studying in faraway Pune and Mumbai.
Swapnil Pawar’s mother is one such parent. Each morning sees her toiling away in her cotton farm in Beed under the scorching sun. The sun saps her strength yet she wipes beads of sweat from her brow, drinks a glass of water and ploughs on. If she does not, then her beloved son, studying in Pune, will go hungry.
This is the story of many families in Maharashtra. Young people from villages travel to big cities in hopes of better education and work opportunities. The parents and their children struggle together to meet the demands of an expensive city education.
Who better to understand this plight of students than students themselves?
A group of college-goers formed an organisation called Students Helping Hands (SHH). The organisation collects funds from well-wishers and philanthropists to fund the meals and sometimes even exam fees, bus passes, and hostel fees of students.
Swapnil Pawar, who is currently studying in class XI in Fergusson College told Pune Mirror, “I came to know about this initiative through one of my friends and I am happy that I can avail the mess services. My mother works in a cotton farm and sends me all the money she can scrape together. I was more than happy to inform her not to send money for the monthly mess as it’s been taken care of by my friends in Pune.”
SHH was started in 2015 as an attempt to help Pune students belonging to drought-affected families. Kuldeep Ambekar, Ganesh Chavan and Sandhya Sonavne reached out to their own acquaintances seeking financial help for such students. Speaking to Pune Mirror, Sonavne says, “I came to the city around four years ago and I know the hardships faced by students coming from rural areas of Maharashtra . . .We started approaching our acquaintances and they, in turn, helped connect us with sponsors from various companies and businessmen.”
The provision of two square meals a day can help these poor students save anything between Rs. 2200 and 2400 every month. As of now, at least 200 students are receiving the meal services.”
The Better India spoke to Nivruti Tigote, a volunteer with the organisation. “For these students, everything from the bus passes to a simple meal seems expensive. At the moment, many students are studying day and night for their upcoming final exams while others are burning the midnight oil to prepare for the MPSC/UPSC exams. They skip meals, walk long distances just to save some money. So we figured, why not fund at least one of these routine bills to ease their struggles?”
For those who count their income in hundreds and expenses in thousands, the guaranteed provision of daily meals is an unparalleled support. They still must study hard but at least, they can do it on a full stomach.
“I know exactly how it feels,” Nivruti tells TBI, adding, “I come from Nanded in Marathwada. The farmers own no more than 7 acres of land there. There’s hardly any industrial development in these regions as compared to the urban areas and so, the people are largely dependent on farming. This is the background that these students belong to. And so we are trying to ease their woes.”
But how does SHH know which student needs their help the most?
“We are currently active in four colleges in Pune. At the beginning of the academic year, we distribute forms to the students who fill in their details. We also ask for their ration card, income card, bonafide certificate, and identity card as proof. Once we collect all the forms, we compare the needs of every individual to the availability of funds and work accordingly,” Nivruti explains.
The fund drive is open to individuals and companies alike and SHH is happy to receive any help they can get. Recently, a well-wisher got in touch with SHH and offered accommodation to students for six months. The philanthropist does not reside in the city and had a 2 BHK flat lying vacant which he unlocked for a good cause.
Nivruti, who is currently doing his masters in Economics from SP College, Pune said that currently, over a 100 students are registered with their initiative and will be given free meals for a period of six months. SHH collaborates with organisations and companies who can provide financial funds or offer meal services.
If you too wish to help hardworking students like Pawar, then you can contact SHH at email@example.com or call them at 9689794776/8600756234. Additionally, you can transfer funds to their bank account directly.
Name of organization: Student helping hands
Account no: 38106918453
IFS code- SBIN0001110
Branch- SBI Deccan Gymkhana, Pune.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)