Educating first-generation tribal children

On a rainy Friday morning, we decided to trek down to Bhivpuri, which is one train stop before Karjat. While actual trekking is what brings most people to Karjat, it was a visit to the NGO – Mazi Sainik Shikshan Ani Swasthya Kalyan Sansthan that brought us here.

A difficult name to recall, unless one is familiar with Marathi, Mazi Sainik Shikshan Ani Swasthya Kalyan Sansthan is Marathi for “The Armed Forces School for Education and Health.” The name makes sense when one delves a bit into its founding story. Set up by Mr. M. Prasad, a retired Indian Navy veteran, it was initially set up for the rehabilitation and welfare of ex-servicemen. Today, the organisation’s main focus is Daffodils – a school up to grade eight, which will soon be a full-fledged SSC school.

While we had travelled approximately 90 kilometers over 2 hours to get to the school, we learnt that some of the children commute quite a distance too. Coming from the villages of X, some travel as much as 48 kilometres every day (and some live just 6kms away). Which is why without the school’s transport, it gets very difficult for the children to make it to school.

These are mostly children of farmers and are the first generation in their families to attend an English-medium school. They travel in the hope of one day alleviating themselves from the lush, picturesque environs of the countryside to the hustle bustle of the concrete jungle. However unfortunate it may seem, being part of the rat race is the accepted form of living our lives; because after all, the chances of earning a steady income are much higher in the cities.

The student-teacher ratio at Daffodils is 64:10, which has helped in students being not only disciplined but more involved in their subjects. As we went from class to class, meeting and greeting them, we were quite surprised to learn that Mathematics was the unanimous favourite across grades! We also found colorful charts depicting small snippets of knowledge, adorning many of the crumbling walls – a small effort by the children themselves to lighten up their otherwise sparse school setup.

Class VIII is currently the highest grade of the school and the batch shows a lot of promise to do well in the SSC exams which will follow in a couple of years. Special classes are held for them by a private tutor to bring them at par with what is required of them. Mr. Prasad says “the hunger these kids show to consume knowledge is all the driving force we need”. The school conducts parent teacher meetings every quarter, with almost every parent returning home happy with their wards’ achievements. The teachers also work tirelessly under the able supervision of the headmistress, Mrs. X. Despite not being paid for the last three months, they have been coming in to teach the kids. Now, that’s commitment!

MSSASKS vision is to “cater to all the basic minimum needs of children – such as education, health care, hygiene, mental, physical, intellectual, spiritual and environmental aspects – as far as possible to enrich their lives and enable them to face the ever changing future with self assurance and courage”. Through Daffodils, the organisation caters to its educational aims. Future plans include the setting up of a children’s hospital. In the meantime, to live up to the “Swasthya” (i.e. health) part of their name, they conduct medical camps with the help of a retired army doctor at a nearby village.

Little drops after all make the ocean. And while the organization is quite far from its ultimate vision, it is getting there slowly and steadily.

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