For 10-year-old Apil and his friends, school is a place where he gets to dig into a whole bowl of mouthwatering khichdi.
When Archana Verma set up Swayam Foundation’s IIM-road learning centre in May this year with the sole purpose of educating children of migrant labourers and slum dwellers in Ahmedabad, food was her best bait.
“It was a challenge convincing the parents to spare them. But when we told them the children would be fed at the centre they gave in,” says Verma.
Almost a fortnight later, there are more than 20 children aged between 5 and 12 in the smallish room of the dilapidated building that is the Gujarat Housing Board quarters reciting the Gujarati alphabet.
The purpose of the learning centre is to train them before they are enrolled in a formal school. Most of the students are children of construction workers who have migrated from the tribal districts of Dahod and Panchmal in central Gujarat, and live either on pavements or in tents near construction sites. According to the state labour department, around 50,000 migrant labourers work in Ahmedabad for eight months and go back to their native places during monsoon.
“Some of them were begging before they joined this place,” adds Verma, an MBA from Patna University.
At the centre, each kid is given a school kit comprising a slate, chalk, drawing book and sketch pen. “We plan to give uniforms also because these kids don’t have proper clothes,” says Sajid Qureshi, who is working with Swayam.
Swayam Foundation was set up in 2010 by Verma. Last year, Verma and her team carried out a comprehensive survey to identify children in the city who were not attending school. After a four-month long exercise, the team identified close to 15,000 children who were not attending any school in 43 wards of Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation area.
“Besides slum areas, we came across thousands of children in industrial areas like Odhav, Vatva and Naroda whose parents were not willing to send them to school as the children worked in garages or tea stalls and contributed to the family kitty.”
After the survey, the data was handed over to the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the central government’s flagship programme for achievement of universalisation of elementary education, so that these children could be enrolled in municipal schools.
What started off as a monitoring agency for SSA, became a centre of elementary education from last year. Today, Swayam operates 22 learning centres with 25 kids in each centre. Swayam has a six-member team under Verma. “Gradually, we will increase our reach to include other areas,” says Verma. “We need to change the mindset of those involved in the education sector. The government should be doing what we are doing as it has the resources and manpower. But that’s not happening and thousands of children remain out of school.”