Sheela Sharma was 18 when she became a teacher in 1992 at a village school in Rajasthan’s Udaipur district where most children came unwashed and unkempt. She started what nobody had done before—take the untidy children of tribal-dominated Badla village to a stream flowing nearby and bathe them.
She travelled to hometown Udaipur on Saturdays, bought soap, oil and combs from her salary and used the purchase on her students after morning prayers. “I earned Rs. 2,100 and would spend around Rs. 150 on the children’s personal hygiene,” said Sharma, now a mother of two.
Six months after she joined, a hand pump was installed on the school premises and she started helping children wash their uniforms and bathe them too. Of course, the bathing exercise faced stiff resistance from kids in the winter months.
Sheela is now a headmistress at a Sanskrit school in Rampura, Udaipur city. She continues to bathe children, help them wash their uniforms and shampoo their greasy, disheveled hair. When she joined her current posting, of the 127 students on the roster, barely one or two turned up for classes. “I began visiting their houses. In a month, all 127 began attending school.”
That followed a serious accommodation problem because the single-classroom school had four chairs, a broken table and doubled up as headmistress’s office and kitchen for cooking the midday meal. Sheela and her colleague Tanuja Bhatt paid the rent, ` 500, from their pay. Sheela relentlessly pursued officials for land to build a school.“In 2003, we were shown a small deserted plot in Rampura.”
Next year, a one-room school came up on that plot. Today, the school stands on five bighas, with nine rooms, a verandah and a playground for its 155 students.