Irappa Naik’s parents grew up in a household where money was tight—his parents were wage labourers, and education had no place in their list of priorities In fact, both his elder brothers were forced to drop out of school to increase the family’s income.
“My dada (elder brother) was a very bright student, but due to our financial situation, he had to discontinue his studies. However, he made sure I completed my education and worked extra shifts as a labourer to pay my school fees,” Naik tells The Better India
Naik was in Class 10 when he decided that one day, he would acknowledge his brother’s selfless act, and in 2000 he fulfilled that promise by opening a free school on the outskirts of Miraj, a city in Maharashtra, for impoverished children.
“Poverty did not stop my brother from funding my studies, and that lesson stayed with me. Even before I passed my tenth boards, I took an oath to teach underprivileged children after I would finish my education,” says the 51-year-old.
Naik stuck by his promise, and in the last 20 years, he has taught around 500 children between grade 1 and 10. Most of the students are children of daily wage workers and waste pickers.
Juggling Work & School
In 1987, Naik completed his diploma in Electronic Engineering from the Walchand College of Engineering, Sangli district. It was a massive achievement for the Naik family. Naturally, his parents expected him to get a high-paying job, and he did.
Alongside the job, he wanted to teach the kids around his area but soon realised there was no space in his basti to conduct a classroom.
“The dream of building a school took shape when I was working as a government contractor. I needed permission to register a school along with proper classrooms and uniforms. So I started saving income for my goal,” he shares.
Thankfully, his parents supported him unconditionally in his endeavour. Once he saved enough, he purchased a small land on the outskirts of the city and built ten classrooms (one for each grade).
With help from a local MLA, he registered his school with Maharashtra Education Board and started the Marathi-medium school called ‘Krantiveer Umaji Naik High School’ with 20 children.
Changing Lives, One Kid at a Time
It was undoubtedly a daunting task for Naik to convince parents to send their kids to a school far away from their homes. He solved their concern about transportation by employing a bus driver who would pick up and drop children from school daily.
But there was another problem.
Many parents refused to send their children to the free school on the grounds of low income. “Some children would often accompany their parents on construction sites to work to earn extra money. They even chose to ignore the unlawful practice of child labour for livelihoods,” informs Naik. It was only when he gave his own example of how education helped him get a well-paying job, did some parents come on board.
As the number of children increased, he hired eleven teachers. Until three years ago (when he quit his job), he paid all their salaries.
Presently, the state education department pays the salaries of three teachers, and Naik pays the rest. The school department also provides mid-day meals to the students, thus taking care of their nutritional needs.
He recently even sold a fraction of his family’s land to meet the expenditures, “We spend up to 50,000 monthly to run the school. Ever since I left my job, things have been difficult.”
Naik also bears other expenditures like uniforms and stationery.
While the man is working out on a plan to get more financial help from the education department, he does not want to compromise the education of his students.
“200 of my students cleared tenth boards and went to pursue higher studies or start small-time businesses. This gives me immense strength to continue working for the school and the hope that my school can change their lives,” he concludes.
If you wish to help Naik run his school, you can contribute money to the following bank account:
Krantiveer Umaji Naik Shikshan Prasarak
Bank of Maharashtra
Account Number: 20144935260
You can also reach out to Irappa Naik at: 9545262849
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)