Ch Nageshu Patro, hailing from Odisha’s Ganjam district, left school because of poverty. Determined to prevent other children from facing the same situation, he worked as a coolie at night and established a free coaching centre for underprivileged kids.
Young Ch Nageshu Patro, now 31, cherished his small family, unaware of the hardships his parents endured to provide daily meals for the household.
But things started to change when his older brother left school and picked up odd jobs to support the family. “My parents were day wagers and we always had financial problems. However, the problems had gotten worse, and my parents told me that they could no longer afford my education,” recalls Nageshu in a conversation with The Better India.
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A passionate reader, Nageshu was heartbroken and determined to change his fate. He made it his mission to prevent anyone from abandoning education because of poverty.
Today, a coolie (porter) by night and a teacher by day, he is doing precisely that. He runs a free coaching class where he teaches students from Classes 6 to 12 for free. “When I started, I had only 10 students with me. However, today the centre has more than 70 students with four teachers, two of which are volunteers and do not charge anything,” he shares.
‘Did not give up on my dreams’
Born and raised in a poverty-ridden family in Odisha’s Ganjam district, Nageshu started to pick up odd jobs when he was only 16.
“I wanted to go to a coaching class so that I could score well in my Class 10 exams. When I went to my parents with this request, I found out that they could not afford to pay even for my school anymore. So coaching was quite out of the question,” he recalls.
“I asked my brother for help but he refused too. I decided to follow in his footsteps and work. I had a plan to save and restart my education soon,” he adds. But unaware of how hard finding work can be, Nageshu says, at that time, he was sure he would earn enough to get back to school soon.
But he soon came to terms with the reality of his situation. “I got a job in a factory in Surat and had to leave behind everything including my home and dreams. The job paid me Rs 1,500 from which I would send some money home and use the rest for sustaining myself,” he says.
Nageshu longed to be near home and spent a few more years working at a Hyderabad shopping mall before finally going back. “I left home in 2006 and returned in 2011 when my brother told me of an opening in the Indian railways,” he recalls.
The opening was for a coolie (porter). “I cleared the medical and physical tests and got the job. I was delighted because this meant I would be close to home and that I would also be earning more money,” he says.
Soon, he talked to his brother about his education. “I was already a little too late to complete my school but I wanted to nonetheless. I told my brother about it and he was shocked. He appreciated me for not letting go of my dreams and encouraged me to restart my education,” he says.
“I used to work as a coolie during the night and study during the day,” he shares.
Nageshu currently holds a graduation and post-graduation degree with a specialisation in Odia language. “I paid for my own education and was even able to pitch in to help my family,” he says with pride.
‘Will ensure no kid is left behind’
“After years of struggle, when I was able to have a stable job as a porter, I was sure I wanted to help people like me,” he says.
So even while working and supporting his family, Nageshu kept putting money aside for his future. “It was in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and our lives were disrupted completely. Since there were no passengers, I was out of my job,” he says.
While Nageshu could depend on his savings for a while, he noticed how most underprivileged children in his neighbourhood were dropping out of school. “The main reason they were leaving school was because the online system was not working in most government schools. I could not bear to see these children waste away crucial years of their life like I had in my childhood,” he says.
So he decided to use his savings and start a coaching class. “It was not planned or well-thought-out. I just told the kids in my neighbourhood to come to my home and I will teach them,” he says. “I never charged the kids a penny and taught them well as it was my passion. Soon word spread and my house was full of eager children.”
So far, Nageshu has taught hundreds of kids and has a batch of 70 currently studying in his coaching class for free. “I use the money I earn from my job as a coolie and what I get from giving guest lectures at a private university in Ganjam district to fund my coaching class. I have hired four teachers out of which two are volunteers,” he informs.
A Class 12 student, Rohan, says, “I have been studying with Nageshu sir for many years. I come from an underprivileged background and his coaching centre has been very helpful. It is hard enough for my parents to pay school fees; affording coaching fees would have been really difficult.”
He informs that his favourite subject is history and he wishes to graduate just like his beloved “Nageshu sir”.
Nageshu recently also got a job as a school teacher in a private school. Equipped with new responsibilities, he is finding his days running shorter. However, he does not have any plans to stop his coaching classes.
“A lot of friends and family tell me how this coaching centre is like a well that is draining my resources. They say ‘Bas ab ho gaya’ (you should close the centre now). But then I think of how this would affect the kids and my resolve strengthens. I will keep on going and will ensure that no kids are left behind,” says Nageshu.
If you like Nageshu’s work and wish to help him or volunteer at the centre, you can reach him at 94390 08509.
(Edited by Pranita Bhat)
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