In a unique attempt to take learning beyond the classroom, a group of 18-year-olds from Ramnarain Ruia College, Matunga, undertook a Mumbai University project to provide mobility to 50 tribal students from the remote Jawhar Taluka in Maharashtra.
Starting on the June 19, twins Eesha and Asira Chirmuley and their friends Mukta Deshpande and Yashashree Ketkar launched a ‘bicycle donation’ drive where they collected and repaired 52 second-hand cycles and gifted them to the students of Gokhale College of Arts and Commerce in Jawhar, which lies 110 km from Thane, on Independence Day. “We have initiated a group called Making A Difference, and this was our first project. We used a Facebook page and oral publicity to promote our cause, and were pleasantly surprised by the response we got,” said Eesha Chirmuley, a Thane resident. “As more people found out about the project, they started approaching us. After a local newspaper published an article about us, a reader donated three brand new cycles for our cause,” she added. Collecting the cycles was merely the first step in the long task that lay ahead of the girls. Each cycle cost several hundred rupees to repair since many of them were in a poor condition. “We needed quite a lot of money to repair the cycles as they needed new tyres, chains and brakes. Through some generous sponsorship by our relatives and well-wishers, we managed to collect Rs55,000,” said Asira Chirmuley. The repairing process took several months: the girls had to manually wheel each cycle to the cycle shops in Thane, where they were oiled, serviced and made ready for use.
The final leg of the project involved zeroing in on a group that they could donate the bicycles to. On being approached, the staff members at Gokhale College were impressed by the level of thought and preparation the girls had put in, and readily agreed to their offer. “The kind of commitment they had towards social work was brilliant. My students are very poor and travel to college over very long distances on foot,” said Pradnya Kulkarni, head of the Marathi department. “They not only donated the cycles, but also organised a lovely programme for the students on Independence Day. Every student who received a bicycle is delighted,” she added.
While the project took more than two months to complete, all four girls believe that it was well worth their effort. “To see the students smiling as we handed them their new cycles made the whole project worthwhile. It was a lot of hard work, but we learned a lot and had great fun while doing it, so much so that we plan to do another cycle donation drive soon,” said Yashashri Ketkar.