“A Aa Ee E Oo…,” a motley group of children chants the Marathi alphabet, unmindful of the stench and stray hens wandering about a makeshift shed that is their “school”.
From 11.30 am to 3.30 pm every day, their teacher instructs them using a chipped blackboard and reads poems to them from donated textbooks.
The students, aged 3 to 6, are rag-pickers’ children; the school stands in the Mulund dumping ground, which receives 300 metric tonnes of waste daily; the teacher is Kavita Sopane, a Class 10 drop out who used to be a rag-picker.
Sopane (21) started this informal playgroup in the 75-family Durgawadi slum in the dumping ground to encourage children to get a formal education by laying a foundation.
There is no government-run anganwadi (childcare and pre-school centre) in the area because under the central government scheme these centres are set up in areas with a population of more than 1,000 people. The nearest civic school, which enrols children only over six years of age, is a 45-minute walk.
“I am trying to show their families that education can change their children’s lives,” said Sopane, who could not complete hers after her mother died. “I don’t want the children to be resigned to a life of garbage collecting.”