For 28-year-old Aarti Parab, the development of a country is associated with the growth and development of its children, and that’s exactly the vision with which she goes to teach the children of Signal Shala each day.
Signal Shala is a school that operates out of a shipping container under Teen Haat Signal flyover in Thane, Mumbai. An initiative by Pune-based NGO Samarth Bharat Vyaspith (SBV), the school is meant for children who beg or sell small items at signals to earn a living for themselves and their families.
It was inaugurated on June 15 and currently has 22 children.
Aarti, who has been associated with the NGO for the past one year, was very excited about the idea of the school. “As a teacher, I think it is my duty to help those children whom we see selling flowers or toys at signals, reach school. For this, I participated in the initial surveys that SBV conducted at Teen Haat Signal and Cadbury Signal to understand the ground reality. And right after seeing these kids I made a decision that I will be teaching them. If they are able to learn a few things, become good human beings, and change the way they have been living so far, no one can stop this country from growing,” she says.
Aarti used to teach in a Marathi-medium private school prior to this. After obtaining her B.Ed and MA degrees, she joined a fellowship programme organised by a charitable organisation named Maharashtra foundation.
Her project as a fellow was to study and analyse the condition of education and needs of children in rural schools. This brought her even closer to the reality and motivated her to work with SBV.
“My work at Signal Shala is very different from my regular job. Here, we are working with kids who have been spending their entire days on the streets for so long now. They beg, sell things, and live with a burden of responsibility from a very young age. But after speaking with them and their parents, we also realised that the kids have the potential to learn a lot,” she says.
The school starts at 11:00 am and Aarti’s delightful day begins with some of the children spotting her on the street and rushing over to wish good morning. “Earlier, the kids used to be disappointed or scared whenever they would see us. But now, even if they spot us across the road, they are excited about school starting soon,” she smiles.
Aarti and the other teachers begin by ensuring that the children are clean before the classes begin. There is a small covered area near the shipping container, which has a water supply. Children who are unable to take a bath in the morning are bathed here. After this the teachers comb their hair and give them their uniforms.
The classes begin with the national anthem and a prayer, followed by a story telling session. All subject lessons are mixed with drawing, craft, games, etc.
Aarti is happy that the children have started showing signs of change. While it was difficult to make them sit for even 15 minutes initially, they are now studying regularly for four hours every day.
“When we told the children about a marathon in which they recently participated, they were so overjoyed that they started preparing for it a day in advance. They cleaned their clothes, kept them ready, and were all pumped up for an early start the next morning. This type of enthusiasm is very encouraging for me as a teacher too. When parents of these kids talk about leaving the place and going somewhere else, they refuse by saying that school is here so they can’t leave. They also refuse to beg on the streets now, even if their parents ask them to. ‘We are ready to sell things if needed after school, but our teacher has told us not to beg,’ they tell their parents” beams a proud Aarti.
This Teacher’s Day, The Better India is supporting a bunch of passionate teachers who want to make a difference in the lives of street kids and help them get access to good quality education too. You can do your bit to help India’s first registered “Signal School” help 36 kids who have never been to school before, study and learn like all of us.
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