Every year, thousands of people migrate to the city of Mumbai in search of a better life and better employment opportunities.
Unfortunately, many fall prey to unemployment and poverty and end up living on roads. The children are expected to move from one traffic signal to another to beg or sell knick-knacks and do whatever else is needed to bring back some food for the family.
Government laws like the Right to Education Act have seemed to elude them, with nearly one out of four in the school-going age, remaining illiterate.
A similar situation existed at the Teen Hath Naka signal in Thane, as several drought-hit families from Beed in Maharashtra’s Usmanabad district had migrated there.
In some cases, as many as three generations of a family have grown up here without access to good health and sanitation, healthy living conditions and education for their kids.
As a step to overcome this issue, a Pune NGO named Samarth Bharat Vyaspith set up Signal Shala, India’s first-ever registered Signal School under a signal flyover in a shipping container that was turned into a classroom.
At the time of inception, Signal Shala had four full-time teachers, one attendant and several volunteers who kept dropping by to help.
The students were not just taught but bathed, groomed and fed a healthy meal every day. Apart from learning regular subjects, the students also participate in arts and crafts activities. A regular reading habit was also being inculcated in all children.
In 2016, The Better India along with Samarth Bharat Vyaspith, launched a campaign to identify families and children staying at Teen Hath Naka signal in Thane and raise awareness and funds for the Signal Shala school.
We shared the stories of parents living on the streets, stories of their children, stories of how Signal Shala’s task was not only to set up a school but also empower these families and show them the need to send their kids to schools.
With the support of our readers, who generously contributed towards the cause, we were successfully able to raise over Rs 6 lakh for Signal Shala to take care of initial costs.
The funds were used towards the salaries, healthy food, stationery and toiletries for children and commuting expenses for signal kids.
In discussion with The Better India, Mr Batu Sawant, the CEO of Samarth Bharat Vyaspith, said, “When we started in 2016, we were just a concept. Today in 2019, thanks to the support of The Better India, the world knows about us and our work. We have expanded from one school to three, and teach a total of 42 children! Two of our children even cleared their Class 10 exams, and are studying further.”
What started as one classroom in a shipment container now has four classrooms, a science lab for grades 4th to 10th and a computer lab. The school has also started a sports compound where a lot of games like kho-kho and kabaddi are played.
The Cultural Ministry has recently awarded Signal Shala with the Pandit Deendayal Upadhyay Antyodaya Best Practices Award. This is presented to organisations or models that have roots and history of achieving success while working at the grassroots.
They were also given the title of a ‘Model School’ by the Maharashtra State government, for bringing street children into mainstream education.
We, at The Better India, want to thank you, our readers, from the bottom of our hearts for your kindness and donations for supporting the Signal Shala. We also wish Signal Shala the best for their future endeavours.
All images are sourced from Mr. Batu Sawant.