Vinayak Lohani’s path was different from that of his IIT-IIM batchmates. He knew it from the beginning, even while he reluctantly made his way through the prestigious schools.
Being born into a middle-class family, he believes that engineering and an MBA were simply a rite of passage. Once he completed them, he felt that he no longer needed to prove his abilities to anyone.
Vinayak’s heart was always in service. His inspirations are Swami Vivekananth, Mother Teresa and Sri Ramakrishna. When he went to Calcutta for his MBA, the city agreed with his simple-living-high-thinking ideology. He decided to serve those in and around the city.
While every single one of his classmates sat for placements, Vinayak chose a different path. He had already began freelance writing and working in the nonprofit space. A corporate job or a massive pay package were of no interest to him. He wanted to help elevate those who didn’t get the opportunities he did in life.
A unique dream
Vinayak didn’t want any part in the rat race of the fast-paced world. As a non-conformist, he had his own measures of success and happiness. He decided that he wanted to open a school for the poor, the children he saw begging on the roads and sleeping on railway platforms.
When he began hunting for land that he could purchase for a school, he discovered that there was no way he could afford that sort of money. So instead, he rented a small apartment for Rs. 12,000 a month and began teaching three poor children from a nearby village.
His first supporter and donor was his mother. With a little help from her, and whatever little he earned tutoring MBA aspirants, he kept going.
But in three months, three children became over 30. He knew that he needed more space. There was so much that he wanted to do for these children. So he began to reach out to his well-to-do mentors and fellow alumnus from IIT and IIM. Vinayak recalls having written close to 1000 emails explaining his situation and asking for funds. About 25 people responded.
“The percentage may not have been high,” says Vinayak, “But it was more than enough to keep me going, to know that even these many people had faith in what I was doing.”
Eventually, he was able to afford 2 acres of land where he built his school, Parivaar.
Forming a Parivaar
As the name suggests, Vinayak did not just see his school as just an educational institution for the poor. He saw it as a place of belonging. As a home for children who couldn’t be with their families for various reasons.
Some of the children who attend his school are orphans. Some have parents who are ill and cannot earn enough to sustain the family. Some come from the most destitute parts of the country, and would not have had a shot at survival had it not been for “Dada”, as they call him, taking them in.
Parivaar identifies children between the ages of 4 to 10, from the poorest of families across West Bengal, Bihar, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh. They help them bridge their learning gap in about six months and then admit them to one of Parivaar’s regular schools.
Today Parivaar has a boys’ school called Parivaar Ashram and a girls’ school called Parivaar Sarada Teertha. Each campus has dorm-like housing, a library, computer room, dining area, a soccer field and a volleyball court. There is also a co-educational school called Amar Bharat Vidyapeeth that teaches children till class 10.
Parivaar is a place where a child’s emotional and mental well being is supremely important. The staff, or ‘Sevavrathis’, consider each child to be their own and look after them as a parent would. The children are not asked to leave once they complete school.
“Would a parent ever ask their child to leave home?” asks Vinayak. “Our kids are welcome to stay on as long as they wish to. They can earn by taking tuitions, and slowly figure out where they would like to go to college or work.”
Parivaar does more than give children free education, shelter and food. They give them a sense of hope and faith that empowers them. Kids from Parivaar receive dignity and respect from those around them. This boosts their self-confidence and shoots up their aspiration levels.
Today, the Parivaar family is the largest free education and residential facility for children in West Bengal. Hundreds of girls and boys from villages in North India now have a chance to tread a different path than that of their family, all because of Vinayak’s ability to dream differently.
You can contribute to the incredible work done by Vinayak Lohani and his team.