Every year, since 2010, on the eve of Nelson Mandela’s birthday on July 18, the United Nations’ Department of Public Information celebrates 67 years Mandela gave to social service by fighting racism and empowering the underprivileged under it’s programme, United Nations’ Academic Impact.
The UN seeks to encourage youth around the world to dedicate 67 minutes of their life to social service. Last month, four Mumbai-based 20-somethings took the message very seriously. Trishya Screwvala, Samyak Chakrabarthy, Yaazdan Katrak and Ruchi Nirmal set up Raindancer, an NGO, to sponsor the education of primary students at Shree Ganesh Vidya Mandir at Dharavi, Sion.
Thanks to Dharavi-based social worker and lawyer, Sandeep Katke, the group realised that the school was on the verge of shutting down this academic year due to a paucity of funds after the BMC took away its grant in 2007. “Until 2007, the BMC gave an annual grant of Rs 350 to every scheduled caste child. Most students of this school belong to the scheduled caste, and this grant meant a lot to them,” says Katke.
Twenty four year-old Screwvala, co-founder and director of Raindancer, says she was shocked at the fact that a school, which produced a state topper last year in Maths, was closing down. “For many students in the area, the school was their only chance at education,” she says.
The group initially decided to sponsor the education of 67 kids as a part of the UN initiative. “However, when we came here, we realised it would be unfair to pick only 67 students. So we decided to sponsor the education, books and uniforms of all 130 kids,” says 23 year-old Chakrabarthy.
Raindancer is also trying to arrange for corporate and BMC funding for the school to enable it to sustain itself in the future. “We hope companies invest in our initiative as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). The school can only apply for a BMC grant after they consolidate its financial position and get initial seed capital in place,” he added.
Bhavna Vhatkar, principal, Shree Ganesh Vidya Mandir is pleasantly surprised with the change. “In 2007, 700 children studied in our primary section. However, after the grant was discontinued, only 130 children stayed back,” she says. After Raindancer stepped in, 24 children have returned to the school.
Raindancer teaches English and introduces extra-curricular activities. “These children study physical training from a book, which just isn’t right. We train them in cricket and football. We also conduct art and craft classes for them,” says Nirmal.
The NGO has partnered with an international organisation, Handheld, to teach them all about the camera and click photographs. “There is a child who has shot long sequences of his father making Ganesha idols. There is another child whose mother is a zari worker and he has made a short film on the art. We plan to release these films on YouTube,” says Screwvala.