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Wednesday, Aug 21, 2019

Social worker runs free Pune school for kids of poor, single mothers

The school runs completely on donations and has a staff of 14 to teach and look after the students, which includes 22 girls.

pune Updated: Nov 13, 2017 14:53 IST
Prachi Bari
Prachi Bari
Hindustan Times, Pune
Principal Shalini Dubey has students wrapped in attention at the Mahatma Gandhi School.
Principal Shalini Dubey has students wrapped in attention at the Mahatma Gandhi School.(Pratham Gokhale/HT Photo)

Knowing the pains and struggles of poor, single mothers to educate their children, Vinayak Deokar, a social worker, established the Mahatma Gandhi School in a rented bungalow in Yerawada to provide free education to their children.

As an orphan who was adopted at the age of three by a family of stone masons, Deokar (44), has seen single mothers struggle. “These women mostly work as maids in apartments or as labourers; they have three and four kids, some have no husbands, and in the case of those who have, often, he is either drunk, or sick. If they want to send their children to private English medium schools, they take loans of ₹40,000 to ₹50,000 for admission to nursery, lower and upper KG,” Deokar said.

It was to help such struggling mothers that he launched an English medium school in June, 2014. A day school working in shifts from 7.30 am to 5 pm, smartly dressed students from junior KG to Class 2 are seen studying, occupying every colourful bench.

Deokar’s adopted parents died when he was in Class 10. Forced by circumstances to drop studies, he began working odd jobs for a livelihood - first as a lottery seller, then as a waiter and helper in an industrial park and finally, as a real estate agent, which was he felt was his calling.

At age 28, he was diagnosed with a cardiac disease and went into depression. This was the period when he met a young mother with a four-year-old who had a similar heart ailment. He also realised that education was not easy for single mothers and widows. It was to help children of such mothers that he established the NGO, Jeevan Mitra Educational Society in 2003.

Deokar raised ₹12 lakh by going door-to-door collecting raddi (old newspapers) and also found a few donors (who did not have children of their own), who came forward to help and sponsor a child’s education. His first student was the child of a young widow working at construction site. “Slowly, we found 46 students from various slums whose mothers were eager for their children to study and we began the school on June 14, 2014,” he says.

The school runs completely on donations and has a staff of 14 to teach and look after the students, which includes 22 girls.

“We don’t just teach them regular studies, but also teach them manners and also provide food. We have often noticed that sometimes students bring stale food in their tiffin which stinks. This also tells us a little more about their living conditions. We try to help them by teaching many things, including personal hygiene,” says Shalini Dubey, school principal.

Satisfied that his family of three grown up children is well taken care of, Deokar adds, “I was in need of money earlier, but after reading Mahatma Gandhi’s biography and philosophy, I realised where to draw the line. People know when to begin but don’t know where to stop. Hence, people chase money until their last breath, which is unfortunate.”

Nisha Kadam, a single mother who lost her husband- a mandap decorator- sends her son to this scool. “When my husband died, I was left with no means of earning a livelihood. My elder son studies in Trinity school in Yerawada in Class 7, while the younger one studies in nursery. I had heard about Vinayak Sir and the help he provided to the needy. He has helped my sons get admission and is paying for my elder son’s education. He has also given me a job so that I can be independent,” she says.

There has been a major change in the students ever since they joined the school. “Whenever I see these kids I know that I am doing something right,” says this Gandhian social worker.

First Published: Nov 13, 2017 14:51 IST

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