That is the number of children who do not go to school in India.
i.e. Four times the population of Australia.
i.e. approximately 1/3 the population of the USA.
And when I see, Mehul,who has lost his parents , scoring 99% in the second grade with an outstanding 100 in mathematics; Roshni, a victim of gender equality, aged 13 , feeling at par with her brother, or when I get a big hug from Haresh, who has been working at the tea stall for as long as I remember, on getting admitted to a private school in the ninth standard; I can only imagine how these children, not only the ones I have come in touch with, have the potential to excel in life, but lack opportunities.
Eight years back, when my co-founders & I started Shwas, it was just about spending time with them, playing cricket with them, or talking to the children at a Place in the vicinity of their community. Gradually, spending four hours together on weekends became a routine; we were teaching 20–25 kids whatever they could not learn at their schools. We taught them about basic hygiene and nutrition, and provided them other supplementary education. It was only when we started working closely, that we realized, that these children have equal potential, if not more, to succeed financially and otherwise in life, but were not given adequate opportunities, specially academically.
After three years of regular teaching on the weekends, we decided to get more serious with it. We were thinking, “What about channelizing the potential of these children and bringing them into the mainstream through education?”
With this thought, we started collecting funds from friends and families. We first got four children admitted to mainstream schools, where they did well and we were further motivated to do the same for more children in this area.
It is a challenge for the children we work with; to pursue their higher education, as municipal schools do not teach beyond the 8th grade, leave aside the quality. The obvious choice for most children is to drop out; and we observed that this occurred much more with female children. We spoke to the parents, counselled them, and convinced them to put their children in better schools. Thus, was born Shwas, whose sponsoring includes stationery fees and uniforms. Today we have 85 children coming every day to study with us with 10 teachers to guide them and out of which 26 children have been going to private schools. Apart from education, we give equal emphasis to their all round development. Every month we take them to one different place—amusement parks, factorie, recreational places, and even colleges—to expose them to the outside world. This not only gives them a possibility to choose from but also aids learning.
There are many children who want someone to lead them away from their community, even if it is for a little while. Shwas is a space where they can leave all the difficulties of their lives behind and just be children.
During this journey, there have been many instances that have motivated us to continue our efforts, but I will share three stories that have particularly had profound impact on us:
Usha started coming to Shwas last year for her 10th grade, which she had earlier failed. She knew one thing when she came: she wanted to continue her studies. Thankfully, her parents allowed her. She wanted to study in a college but didn’t know how. She had to start from scratch, learning Gujarati Kakko and the English and Hindi alphabets, basic maths (and…)
Nonetheless, we had to do something about it. The noise of shattering dreams is never pleasant; more so bearable. She started studying for the 10th grade with us, starting from Gujarati Kakko to reading and writing till 10th grade. After all her efforts, she cleared the 10th grade in a year’s time and even got admission in Commerce.
She taught us, if there is desire and there is will, nothing is impossible.
Dipakbhai is the father of a Shwas child, Gaurav. As an parent, who takes immense care of his sons education, we have had the chance of interacting with him several times. One day, while talking, he mentioned that he always wanted to study beyond 10th grade. But, couldn’t because he had to get married. He was pulled out of the hostel
and married off.
But, he found his desire to study renew, when his boss told him that he was smart and admitted him to Tally and English speaking classes.
Now, he wishes to give the 12th standard exams next year with his son. He said “ I don’t want to live with the regret that I couldn’t study further.”
The lesson we learnt, there is no age limit for education.
3) Govind and Kalpesh
The third and the last story is of Govind and Kalpesh, two best friends, but more so like brothers. Both of them, loved playing cricket more than anything else. But, never at the cost of their education; they would play hard and study harder. Today, they have, both, joined a private coaching center and they play tournaments in different schools and coaching centre. This has encouraged them to pursue their sporting endeavours with much confidence and dreams in their eyes.
Each of these underprivileged children deserves everything we have; they merely lack adequate opportunities. We all have the capability to provide such opportunities, and if we decide to do so for at least one child or adult, we can only
wonder how different their life will be; how different our lives will be. This new year I wish the year is kinder to them and I believe in humanity that this year we will get more children in private schools.