Sahil Patel and Aryan Ahirwar, two students of Class 5 living in a slum in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, recently became an inspiration for many children in the area when they gained admission into a Jawahar Navodaya Vidyalaya (JNV) – all thanks to the students of a college group named Kaarwaa.N, who helped them prepare for the admission test.
“Social work was never my aim. I know that there are many great organizations working at a very large scale and creating laudable impact. My vision was to instill a sense of responsibility towards the society among my college-mates. Something like this, I think, motivates people to contribute later in life too – be it in small ways,” says Gaurav Patil, who founded Kaarwaa.N in 2013 when he was a student of Jabalpur Engineering College.
He started with a group of 10 like-minded students who wanted to use the spare time they were getting in college to do something constructive for the society.
They decided to begin by going to a nearby slum and contributing one-two hours each day to teach children. But this approach lacked any scope for long-term impact. Teaching kids for just a short period of time for about four years would not have been enough: “I come from a tribal village and have some friends who gained admission in JNV and later turned out to be very successful students. So I decided that we should focus on helping children prepare for admission in JNVs from Class 6 so that the school can assist them after that,” says Gaurav.
The Navodaya Vidyalaya System consists of alternate schools for talented children in rural India. Operated by the Navodaya Vidyalaya Samiti, which is an autonomous organization under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, JNVs are fully residential and co-educational schools affiliated to Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE). They have Classes 6 to 12. The schools seek students from rural areas and provide them with quality education. 80% of the seats in these schools are reserved for students coming from rural India, and 20% for those living in urban parts of the country.
“Once they get admission in a JNV, students will be able to complete their education and support their families in the future. Additionally, they will also become a source of inspiration for students from nearby villages to study hard,” says Gaurav.
He created a framework and time-table for all 10 college students in the group and began with one government primary school in the slum – teaching children of Class 5 for the JNV admission test.
Slowly, they expanded to an orphanage and other kids in the community as well. The initial challenge they faced was that parents and teachers did not trust them and were also not aware of JNVs. They overcame this with communication and slowly, as the residents saw them returning each day, they started supporting the group.
Today, Kaarwaa.N has 150 members operating in four schools in the area, with 40-60 children in each school.
To keep the group alive, they enrol members of first to third years, and the responsibility is transferred from one batch to the next. Their college professors continuously support the group and help them with all the books that are required to teach. The group also conducts music, arts, sports, and environmental learning lessons. Seeing the knowledge level of students in Class 5, they have now started teaching kids in Classes 3 and 4 as well so as to prepare them early.
Kaarwaa.N is also involved in activities like distributing warm clothes among the slum-dwellers in winters, conduction sports and painting competitions for kids, other than health camps, etc.
Gaurav, who is now doing his Masters in Delhi, continues to coordinate with those who are currently running Kaarwaa.N. “We have seen a lot of improvement in the basic mathematical skills of the students, along with an increase in their confidence levels. The families and schools in the slum support us and encourage us to keep moving forward,” he says.