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This ‘Dadi’ transformed the lives of 450 slum children in Jaipur

For 450 slum children in Jaipur, Vimla Kumawat or “Dadi” as they fondly call her is their only family, having rescued them from a life of ignominy as scavengers and making them capable of standing on their own feet.

jaipur Updated: Apr 29, 2018 22:10 IST
Urvashi Dev Rawal
Urvashi Dev Rawal
Hindustan Times
Rajasthan,Slum children,Dadi
Vimala Kumawat with students at Seva Bharti Bal Vidyalay in Jaipur. When Kumawat, 64, decided to educate ragpicker children, she never imagined that 15 years later it would evolve into a school with 450 students.(Prabhakar Sharma/HT Photo)

For 450 slum children in Jaipur, Vimla Kumawat or “Dadi” as they fondly call her is their only family, having rescued them from a life of ignominy as scavengers and making them capable of standing on their own feet.

When Kumawat, 64, on a whim decided to educate rag picker children, she never imagined that 15 years later it would evolve into a school with 450 students, in Jaipur’s Mahesh Nagar neighbourhood.

Some of the children are now studying for their graduation, while others are preparing for the medical entrance exams and some are pursuing professional courses. A far cry from what their parents do for a living-- work as ragpickers or skin dead animals.

Her inspiration, she says, was an RSS pracharak, Dhanprakash Tyagi, who used to visit their home. “He would tell my husband to educate children in slums. My husband didn’t pay heed but one day I decided to take the initiative.”

She went to a slum near her home. “I spoke to the women but they viewed me with suspicion and hostility. They thought I was not serious and would leave in a few days,” says the bespectacled and matronly Kumawat.

Kumawat bought some slates, chalk, note books, pencils and books. But convincing parents to let their children study, proved a challenge.

“They said their income would suffer if the kids stopped working as rag-pickers. They would hide their children when they saw me coming.”

But with patience and resolve, and bribes like toffees and chocolates to sweeten the deal, Kumawat made headway.

She began from one room in her home on January 26, in 2003. Now, 15 years down the line, Kumawat says when she looks back she feels it was a kind of fervour that drove her despite all the challenges.

Initially, five children started attending the school but in the next two months, the number rose to 35. There was a space crunch and nowhere else to go. She was also short of funds for providing the material required for the children.

“There was little space at home. I not only had to educate them but also teach them to comb their hair, cut nails, clean their teeth, bathe daily and even fed them at my home.”

Three months into impulsive decision and faced with a tough situation, Kumawat was rethinking her decision.

“I had planned to tell Tyagi ji to our house that I could no longer continue. He came one day and saw me teaching the children. He fell at my feet and started crying. I was overcome with emotion, I couldn’t muster the courage to tell him that I was planning to quit. I decided that come what may, I would continue,” says the soft-spoken Kumawat.

The number of students in her school grew to 185 and for the next five years she held classes in parks, temples, community centres and under makeshift tents. Some good Samaritans kept coming up and helping with funds or materials.

Eventually in 2012, with the help of some friends and donors from Sewa Bharti, Kumawat was able to get a plot of land and build a building and her school--Sewa Bharti Bal Vidyalaya--started.

At present, there are 450 children studying in the two schools of whom 36 live in the two-storey building along with Kumawat in Mahesh Nagar.

“I told my family I couldn’t ditch these kids. I moved out of my home and shifted to the school building,” says Kumawat surrounded by her wards of various ages. Her family, she says, supports her decision.

The Mahesh Nagar School is up to Class 8 and there are 10 teachers. After Class 8, Kumawat shifts the children to a nearby private or government schools.

She is also running a school at Baxawla on the outskirts of Jaipur where the government shifted some of the rag picker families. The school is up to Class 5 and has 125 children and three teachers.

Kumawat, who herself has studied until Class 8, has resumed her studies to encourage the children. She has appeared for the Class 10 board exams.

A number of children living at the school are orphans or abandoned and for them Kumawat is the only family.

Shivani Kalasia, 18, is preparing for the medical entrance exam. She came to the school as a toddler and has no recollection of her parents.

She says she wants to make Dadi proud. “She has lit the flame of knowledge in us. It’s now time to for the flame to burn bright,” she says.

Anuradha Boyat, 20, is studying nursing from Dhanvantri College. “I feel happy that I can stand on my own feet. If Dadi-ji had not given me this chance, I would have still been sorting garbage,” she says.

Asha Bairwa, 18, and Sadhna, 19, are studying for their graduation from the Maharani College while Vishnu Chanwariya, 21, is pursuing graduation from a private institute. Anil Koli is a student at a private college.

Chanwariya says even when some of the kids go to visit their parents, they miss their home here.

“Despite my scolding, they love me and take care of me,” Kumawat says with a smile.

She is now anxious about the children finding suitable jobs for her wards.

“My mission will be accomplished when they start earning. Then their parents will feel that investing so many years in their education has been worthwhile.”

Kumawat, who is deeply religious, says every time she faced a difficult situation, divine intervention saved the day. “I’m confident god will not let me down now too.”

First Published: Apr 29, 2018 22:10 IST