From where does a 72-year-old woman derive so much energy and drive? I always wondered every time I saw Jyoti Tanna taking her brisk early morning walks.
She’s the stereotype of the typical Indian woman — housewife, mother and grandmother. I don’t remember how we struck up a conversation one day and I discovered there was more to her.
She has set up ‘Each One Team One’ (EOTO) Charitable Foundation, a registered NGO, which aims at the overall development of municipal school children. The seeds for the organisation were sown in 1984 when she participated in the Hunger Project in India.
The experience made her resolve to end hunger in India. This, she felt, could be achieved by educating the economically backward children. Coincidentally, a few days later, she spotted five municipal school children playing cards near her house.
She says, “I guessed they had bunked school. When I asked them why they weren’t in school, they told me they didn’t have school shoes, uniforms and books. So their teacher shouted at them. When they asked their parents for these things, they would get beaten up. They even managed to get food from my neighbours.” So bunking school seemed to be the ideal way out. Jyoti continues, “I asked them if they would attend school if I provided them with food, school uniforms and books. They agreed. I met their school principal and they were back in school. One of them is a lawyer and another one is a chartered accountant now.”
So that was the beginning of EOTO. It started with five kids from the Sion Municipal School and went up to 183 kids in a span of two years. It’s 25 years now and EOTO has a total of 3,500 kids from five municipal schools in the city.
The latest feather in EOTO’s cap is the mobile library in Palghar. Jyoti states, “We have stationed a mobile van with a driver-cum-librarian and a volunteer outside the school. These children don’t like to come to school. Their parents don’t care. The school kids can borrow storybooks and painting books. This is an attempt to lure them to school and inculcate good reading habits in them.”
This van also goes into the interiors of Palghar, where the volunteer reads out stories to the adivasi children. Next, is the introduction of educational games, followed by changes in the school programme. Jyoti admits to a sense of parental pride when she sees these children scoring high grades and pursuing challenging careers.
This stems from the fact that she was deprived of an education when she moved to India with her parents and siblings during partition.
She rues the fact that she couldn’t pursue her dreams of a higher education: “I was depressed. It was my dream to study. My parents managed to send me to school later but they couldn’t afford to enroll me in a college. I felt very resentful then.
But looking back, I have no regrets. Perhaps, if I had been well-educated, I wouldn’t have been sensitive to the issue of children’s education.”
Although EOTO is her brainchild, Jyoti reiterates the fact that it’s not a one-woman project. She sums it up with, “Besides me, there are four more trustees and about 30 volunteers. Teamwork has made it a success.”