Sona (name changed), an eight year-old girl from Phule vasahat in Vishrantwadi, is an orphan and stays with a distant relative. Till recently she was compelled to beg on the streets for food and money. But, her life transformed after she started going to ‘school’ for a few hours every day.
This is no ordinary school, and it’s not the only one of its kind. More than 60 children like Sona, most of them orphans, attend classes run from the footpaths of Alandi Road in Vishrantwadi, by NGO Awakening Jagriti. Its volunteers have been working in four parts of the city and have been trying to inculcate the importance of education and sanitation in the kids and their parents from the slums, who are prone to begging, crime, and addiction to drugs and liquor.
“At our NGO, we have a section called Child Rights, and through this we have been running a project, which involves visiting the slums and counselling the parents about the importance of education and health. We first assembled them in the neighbourhood to impart knowledge on fundamental things, so that they develop an interest in education,” said Nilesh Pasalkar, who has been working as a teacher at Vishrantwadi.
Gradually more and more children started showing up for the two-hour informal counselling sessions.
“We then went ahead and asked their parents to enrol the kids in the school, and now more than 60 students are undergoing counselling,” Pasalkar added.
Ganesh Rahane, a social worker with the same NGO, said that apart from Vishrantwadi, similar projects are being run at Sangavi, Shivajinagar and Sutarwadi in Pashan area. These children are inadequately protected or exploited by adults, and they don’t have a proper place to stay, food security, access to health services, and means to fulfil their developmental and recreational needs, he said.
“Therefore, the primary focus while working with this group of children has been to provide them a safe and secure environment. For this reason, we have concentrated more on the awareness sessions with these children, who are vulnerable to abuse and addictions,” he added.
Shivappa Shetty, a ragpicker whose three kids including a daughter used to initially help him in his work, was spotted by volunteers from the NGO two years ago.
After providing them proper counselling, Awakening Jagriti facilitated the enrolment of the children — Divya (11), Babu (9) and Ganesh (7) — with different educational institutes in the city that also have boarding facilities.
“We are from Karnataka, and after my wife died six years ago, we moved to Pune in search of livelihood. We were living on the roadsides, collecting scraps to make ends meet. My daughter Divya and son Babu are with a school in Wadgaon Budruk and stay in the hostel provided by the institute. Younger son Ganesh is with an organisation for street children called Snehalaya in Ahmednagar,” said Shetty, who now lives in a makeshift hut near the PMC office.
“All the expenses are being borne by the NGO and the institutes where they are currently studying,” said Shetty.
Subhadra Shejwal, a single mother whose two kids aged 7 and 8 too attend the footpath sessions run by the NGO, said, “I work as a domestic help in the neighbourhood. Initially, I didn’t allow my kids to go and study, and used to take them to work. However, after these volunteers came to our place and counselled me about the importance of education, I allowed the children to attend the classes. Now, apart from the informal sessions by the NGO, they have been admitted by a PMC school in the vicinity.”