On a visit to Mumbai’s Carter Road one morning, Jay Mehta was amazed to see several groups of children sitting on the footpath learning lessons from voluntary teachers. His curiosity aroused, he decided to find out what was going on and who was behind it. This is his account of the initiative started 14 years ago by Navjot Foundation.
It’s little more than 7 o’clock in the morning and while Mumbai’s Carter Road is buzzing with people running, jogging, strolling, exercising and laughing (literally and deliberately), a lady in her 60s, comes down to one of the benches, takes out a couple of bottles of milk, a container of biscuits, disposable cups, fruits and chocolates. A kid comes down to her, takes the cup of milk and some biscuits and heads back to the carpet where her school bag is placed. Soon, others follow.
It has been 10 years since the lady, Mira Mamnani, joined the initiative to teach these kids coming from the nearby slums of Danda and Hanuman Nagar. While there is no formal name to the initiative, it has largely spread through word-of-mouth. The initiative was a brainchild of Mr. G L Singh, founder of Navjot Foundation that manages the initiative, who lived nearby and used to visit Carter Road regularly. The idea was to provide that extra push to these kids so that they are ready to compete with the privileged ones once they go out on their own in the academic or the corporate world. Later on, other volunteers like Veena Metri, Jyoti Kale, Mira Mamnani and Gurmeet Singh joined in.
The initial years saw around 8-10 kids coming down on a regular day. Volunteers joined and left as per their convenience and commitments. Currently, the number of kids ranges from 50-60 on a weekday to approximately 120 on Sundays. At present, there are three active trustees in the Navjot Foundation, each one of them contributing in their own manner – financially and voluntarily. Contributions also pour in from other locals who know about the initiative and want to celebrate their happiness in a different manner.
Some of the brightest kids from this Paathshaala went on to become professionals or became bread earners of their families and have made their parents and teachers proud.
Thankfully, the support of the parents in sending their kids to this Paathshaala has also played a major role behind the success of the initiative. With increasing awareness about the importance of education, parents in the nearby areas – mainly auto drivers and household help hands – have been proactive in getting their children educated. Milk-biscuit, fruit, chocolates and breakfast adds further incentive to that. Currently, the number of children coming in the morning has been increasing due to word-of-mouth publicity.
However, availability of the volunteers is the single biggest challenge for the initiative. Speaking about the problem of volunteers, Mira says, “Abroad, volunteers come and teach, but here there is a difference between rich and poor that stays in the minds of the people. We have put a board for volunteers since we need them very badly”. With no certainty about volunteers, there are times when children themselves become teachers sometimes with elder kids teaching the younger kids or academically stronger kid teaching a weaker peer.
Monsoon doesn’t spare these kids just like it doesn’t spare the rest of the Mumbaikars. While the teaching is conducted under the shade of trees in the rest of the seasons, monsoon witnesses call-offs on some of the days. Sometimes the teaching is also conducted in the cars parked nearby.
But the boat has been sailing along since last 14 years, withstanding all the storms. It just goes to show that a good cause always finds support in some form or another.