“Aavo ne varsaad, dhebariyo parsad”, the song brings back some of the most beautiful memories of life, the joyful school days when we were toddlers. That confused look over a math sum, excited to see a pigeon playing with water in a bucket around them, happy to see people coming to visit them, sad because hey… the teacher just shouted, someone is lost or busy pondering over life. This is how the Footpath Pathshala looks like. Usually, children go to school to study but this school goes to children, hoping for their fruitful future.
An initiative taken up by the one whose outstanding contribution to the field of education of underprivileged has won applauds. Juin Dutta, who quit her professional life to give back something to the society is a very determined lady. She along with her team, are working day and night for the betterment of disadvantaged children.
We are fortunate to get a chance to meet her and ask her more about this Footpath Pathshala. Just like her life, the answers were extremely inspiring.
Introduce Pathshala to us
Pathshala is a concept and a mobile school for the underprivileged kids. We initiated this project in May, 2013 with the children of construction labourers who used to work with Sama Swati complex. We found that kids were very keen to learn, read and write. We are all aware of how a construction labourer’s life is. They do not have permanent house to live in, neither do they have a permanent job which gives them financial security. Apart from the basic necessities they lack in, it is the education of their children that suffers the most. By pondering over this point we thought of adopting a few kids and today, we are happy that we have come way ahead of buying a house for them.
How did you approach them?
We used to go to the site everyday from Monday to Friday. The parents of kids whom we used to teach used to watch us. In fact, some of them said that they were happier with us than them. That was the time when I got satisfaction as well as motivation to work more and go ahead. With the trust and approval of parents we opened a hostel named pathshala.com. There were few If’s and But’s which I personally feel should be inconsiderable. We have successfully started a hostel with nine kids who go to Nav Prerna School. Additionally, in hostel they are taught drawing, music, dance and karate apart from the academics. Teacher volunteers come to teach these kids with full dedication. I am grateful to them.
How many teacher volunteers are there to take care of kids? What do they teach?
There are in total 12-15 volunteers for four places. We have volunteers not just belonging to the Srotoshwini trust, but also people who have come across our write-ups and reports in newspapers and have willingly come forward to join hands with us. To introduce you to our four places – we have a library + activity centre called as Paatahkbhavan at Sanjay Nagar, Sama which has membership of about 25-30 students. The biggest challenge is the Footpath Pathshala of Fatehgunj. They do not have a proper place to stay. Names of those kids are registered in a school but the irony is that, they are never sent to school. We approached them and asked them to be with us and that they will be taught by us. We wanted them to be enrolled in a school as it’s important. So, right now they are enrolled in Maharani Lakshmibai School. Since they have their names in a government school, we are hopeful for them to get facilities like that of uniform and books from school which we have not got yet. At our Pathshala, we follow the Gujarat State Education Board (GSEB) syllabus. One more project which we just took up is that of Subhashnagar slums, Jetalpur road. There we have found many kids going to school but they have not learned a thing! It is wrong to only blame the school but, many factors are responsible for it. We have started teaching them basics of Gujarati and Mathematics. English and General Knowledge, has also been taken up by the volunteers.
What kind of books are there in Paathakbhavan?
We have basic English and Gujarati books. Children enjoy reading and they read a lot. There are story books, activity books and we also have a personal computer there where we screen movies and educational documentaries. I strongly say that students just do not go to school because they get mid-day meals but reading and writing is their passion!
Where and how do you get the funds from?
To be very honest, I personally had to invest for Sama Pathshala but after that many came to help. The Footpath project which is running successfully right now is funded by Mahavir International for last three months. A gentleman, Dilip Shah is funding our recent Jetalpur road project. Apart from them, even passerbies take a lot of interest and come to us to ask if they can do anything for us. We get a huge help like this. Since last two months we have not bought any stationary as we get enough of contribution from the outsiders. We tell our requirement and people donate. Only the food part we are a bit conscious at, we do not accept dry things from anyone.
Can you tell us one of the shortcomings which you have faced uptil now?
I remember this girl Santoshi immediately when you ask me for a failure. A 10-11 year old girl had to leave because her parents were shifting. I had offered them a choice by asking them if I can put her in our hostel. She was very sharp and smart but her parents denied. She had a step mom which is another story. She used to write me in a notebook and send me- “Madam aap jitna bhi karlo, kuch nahi kar paogi”. This is when I felt lost. I still feel we have lost a very good student.
Since the students you teach are the first generation learners. Why don’t you put in more efforts in convincing their parents?
Lot of parents get convinced after they see us working for their kids but, few of them just do not want to send their kids to us. Our trip to Lakhodra was a very happening one but I still remember what Santoshi’s parents had told me when I took her to that trip. She said stop harassing my child and I was taken aback and down with tears.
What other problems do you face with the excellent work you are doing?
Ya… like I said there are if’s and buts to everything. I remember the days of Swati complex where we had organised a small exhibition with a display of work done by our kids. Apart from Mr. Mishra who was leading the project, no one bothered to even see what work was being done at their site. In fact some of them used to harass us. We know, not everyone can appreciate the work we are doing and we are ready for the worst. If I have to give a very overall view of my experience, I would rather say that this work is possible only in Gujarat. The response which we get is so positive that we feel motivated to work all the time. Passers by usually help us so much. One day I still remember a person donated us 5500 in cheque. Today, we don’t even know where he is.
Pathshala and social networks
The amount of positive response we have got in the real world motivated us to make our presence felt in the world of social network. We have a group on watsapp called Footpath Pathshala. I remember a day when we were in an urgent need for bags. I appealed for not so expensive bags and within few minutes I had got a call from a gentleman Karan Sinha that he would donate the bags by next day. This is the spirit of people from Gujarat. We have also earned around 18,000 from the Rakhi and friendship band exhibition. I have thought of opening the bank accounts for these kids, but since they don’t have a permanent address it’s difficult.
When will they use the bank accounts? Don’t you think parents would take away money from their account?
I know they would not have any savings, but the habit of having an account might help them in future. If tomorrow they start earning they have a safe place to keep their money and the interest can be an add-on to the salary. About their account, I have made an arrangement that no one can withdraw from their account without my permission.
Your future plans?
Plans are many. Buying this hostel was also a dream for us which somehow we could execute successfully. My husband had donated this flat which is later made as hostel. Our next plan is to buy a big piece of land and make a school and hostel there. Since the Municipal schools offer education only till eighth standard there are high rates of drop outs after that as, their parents can’t afford the education of private schools. So, our plan is to bring such kids in a school cum hostel where they can settle permanently and hope for a better life tomorrow.
With the dedication of the team members and the volunteers I have with me, I know we can reach our goal.