Neha, an 11-year-old girl from the slums of Kandivali lives with her grandmother as she has lost both her parents. Her grandmother earns Rs. 2,000 per month. This measly amount is not even enough for her to buy a bus pass worth Rs. 160 for Neha so that she can attend school. So Neha is now sitting at home instead of attending school.
Suhasini Mhaske is another similar case. Her father is an alcoholic and spends most of his money on alcohol. Her mother used to work hard and provide money for her daughter’s bus pass even at the cost of her own meals. But now she is unwell and cannot continue working, Suhasini too is not attending school.
This sorry plight of slum children has not escaped the attention of 3 Gandhi Fellows, Harsha Ramchandani, Aditi Chatterjee, and Shrestha Ganguly.
According to India’s Census of 2011 for Mumbai and Thane regions, approximately 1.01 million children in the age group 5-17 are out of school. Of these 0.4 million children have dropped out of school and 0.6 million have never been to school at all.
Wanting to contribute to the society by making a positive change, they identified 8 such kids in the Kandivali slums and a couple of kids in Versova. The collective effort to provide round-the-year education of these kids got christened Urjayati.
‘Urjayati’ is a Sanskrit verb, which means to nurture and enlighten. These enterprising girls took the first step of raising funds for the kids by organising a raddi sales campaign.
The campaign yielded an initial seed fund of Rs. 5,000 but they needed more funds especially as they discovered that a pair of kids from Versova who were the sole earning members of their family. Poonam and Anand Shinde’s mother stopped working after she became pregnant. Consequently, the kids had to drop out of school and work odd jobs to support their mother and the coming baby.
“The situation was so bad that once when we visited, we found the 1-year-old eating only sugar for lunch. The kids wanted to go to school but would only be able to do so if we could compensate for the loss of income they would have to bear.”
True to the connected times we live in, an online fundraiser on Milaap helped put together sufficient funds to take care of round-the-year education expenses for these 10 kids. The next challenge naturally was to keep track of their performance and ensure they did not skip school.
These girls went improvising on the way as Urjayati created a mentorship model, where a mentor is assigned to each kid or a couple of kids. The mentors not only guide and help the kids in studies but also track their performance and the household activities.
Nilanjana, the mentor to 2 sisters, Pooja and Ashwini, says, “If I work with these kids and turn them into better human beings and help them find the path towards their goal, wouldn’t it help make the world and the society I live in a better place?”
She is all praise for the girls and believes they are more mature than their age.
“Pooja wants to become a cop and Ashwini wants to follow her big sister’s footsteps. They really want to make the most of their education. They’re not just going to school for the sake of it,” says Nilanjana.
That the mentors have become a significant pillar in the process became apparent when the Kandivali fire broke out. At that time of crisis, the mentors helped collect food and clothes for the families of their kids and delivered them personally. They also provided moral and mental support to help them recuperate from the shock and loss they experienced.
Seeing the success of their venture, team Urjayati have decided to take on more kids, this time from a slum in Delhi