A school teacher couple, of Pathardi in Maharashtra’s Ahmednagar district, have emerged as promising social entrepreneurs helping destitute women, widows, orphans, distressed farmers, needy school children, among others.
For the last six years, Popatrao Funde (40) of Waikarwasti Zila Parishad (ZP) Primary School and wife, Anuradha (39) of Ranjani ZP Primary School have been putting aside 10 per cent of their salary for their philanthropic work. So far they have provided assistance to 1200 garaju (Marathi for ‘needy’) in this Western Maharashtrian municipal town in “an effort to give back to society”.
It all began in June 2014, while Popatrao fell unconscious at work in Dhaswasti ZP Primary School and was rushed to a hospital. He recalls, “The physician told me I had fainted due to low blood pressure and that I should be thankful to God that I survived. It was then that I decided to do my humble bit for those in need and try bringing some cheer to their lives, especially to those who are not as fortunate as I am.”
Every Sunday, the Funde couple visit localities in the neighbouring villages to seek out those who could do with some assistance — financial or otherwise. Be it a sewing machine for a hard-pressed couple, clothes and books for a school-going child, birthday gifts to a child, a goat for a farmer couple, daily rations for an orphanage or a crematorium worker, a gas stove for an eatery on a cart, footing the hospital bills of an ailing factory labourer, a wheat grinder for a housewife-entrepreneur — the duo have helped with it all.
A school which once housed cattle gets a makeover
Most ZP primary schools in Maharashtra are in remote areas, unconnected by roads and far away from urban settlements. These schools with only two teachers have a student strength ranging from 1 to 60.
During his 10-year tenure at Dhaswasti ZP Primary School in Dhaswasti, 11kms from Pathardi comprising majorly of Dhangars—a pastoral community of shepherds, wool weavers and buffalo herders—Popatrao motivated friends, well-wishers and acquaintances to help equip the two-room rural school with computers, e-learning kits, loudspeakers, benches, water purifier, toilet facilities, etc. In 2011, Sheetal Dhas, a Class four student of the school stood third in the Maharashtra Government’s State Scholarship exam while Sagar Kute, also from the same class, stood 10th in the district.
In 2016, Popatrao was transferred to Doiphodewasti Zila Parishad (ZP) Primary School. “The day I arrived at the school, some time in June, I found that cattle had made it their home. Undeterred, I stripped to my trousers and began cleaning the classrooms and the premises. Soon the villagers arrived and surprised at what a teacher was doing, began assisting me.”
He reached out to the villagers, convincing the parents to send their kids to the school. The school resumed with 16 students reaching a strength of 20 within months. He gifted stationery worth Rs 2,000 to the students, and appalled by their oral hygiene, he gave away toothbrushes and toothpaste, too. He motivated several men of the village to give up alcohol, formed a Bhajan Mandal and also created a women’s savings group. Age-old disputes among villagers were resolved too. “I also promised a sum of Rs 1,000 would be deposited in the Sukanya Yojana for every new-born girl child,” says Popatrao.
Within the first eight months, he helped raise donations which led to the school acquiring computers, water purifiers, toilet basin, all totalling Rs 10 lakhs. He motivated the villagers to adopt water conservation methods, helped resolve disputes, encouraged people to take up shramdaan activities in order to clean up the village’s surroundings. “Fortunately, the Ahmednagar District Collector attended the school’s annual day which made a great impression among the villagers who had never seen a government official before,” says Popatrao.
Anil Mahadeo Kawade who while being the District Collector of Ahmednagar in 2017 attended the annual day event at the 20-student strong Doiphodewasti ZP School. Now the Commissioner, Cooperation & Registrar, Co-operative Societies, Pune, recalls, “Popatrao has an innovative approach towards teaching kids. Seated on the floor, he interacts with students from first to the fourth standard, simultaneously and he has had amazing results with them.”
Since December 2019, Popatrao has been serving as a teacher at Waikarbasti ZP Primary School and has equipped it with e-learning systems, a projector, water tank, furniture, teaching aids, and game equipment etc. with the help of donations raised by well-wishers. Due to his innovative teaching methods, he was selected by the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Culture of Government of India, for a week-long puppetry training workshop in Hyderabad.
According to Pathardi Municipal Corporator, Bandu Patil Borude, the Funde couple have earned the trust of the locals due to their exemplary social activities. “We need more people like them amongst us. Those who come to the aid of the needy and the destitute,” he says.
The Selfless Fundes
Following the onset of the pandemic due to Covid-19, the couple has been unable to reach out to people personally but still continued with their good Samaritan initiatives. Anuradha says, “We started posting details about our activities on social media and have been receiving scores of referrals for the assistance which made our job much easier.”
During the pandemic, the couple have provided daily rations to 50 Adivasi families, and also helped out 20-year-old Dipak Rakh, who grew up without parents. “We got to know of Dipak through a Whatsapp contact and gifted him with a cheque Rs 10,000 and assured to take care of the costs incurred for his MPSC exam preparations,” says Anuradha.
With a school-going child and elderly parents to support, besides EMI payments for their house and two-wheelers, the couple admit they have spent “over Rs 3 lakhs” on their humanitarian activities.
But humorist, inspirational speaker and story writer Dr Sanjay Kalamkar who has known the couple for long says, “Though they say that they spend a mere 10 per cent of their salary on philanthropic activities I believe they spend much more.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)