चिराग तले अन्धेरा

Pune – The Oxford of the East

Kumbale (a village in Pune district) – one room for the whole school!

On Thursday, I visited two schools in Welhe, a tehsil in Pune District. I can say I now understand the meaning of the phrase ‘trying conditions’.  A few examples to give you an idea of the kind of daily battles these children and their teachers fight-

  • There is one class-room with only one black-board for 67 children in the Zilla Parishad school at Kumbale Village. The children belong to different classes, ranging from Std. 1 to Std. 6.
  • Children have to travel long distances ranging from 2 to 11 kms – through treacherous hilly terrain, surrounded by jungles, merciless rains during monsoons, many travel the distance bare-foot.
  • Fathers (many with a drinking problem) think the children are wasting their time in schools, especially girls.
  • The villages have nothing when it comes to primary health care; the villages which have electricity have it only for 10-12 hours a day, many hamlets have still not been electrified. The monsoons threaten the record of Cherrapunji.
  • There is one college offering BA in the area (some 30 odd kms away) and not many children continue till college.

And we are talking of two schools in an area that happens to be part of Pune district – the same Pune that is considered the Oxford of the East!

Yes, the conditions are bad but they could not dent the sincerity and motivation levels of the teachers in these schools.

Mr. Sheikh, the head-master at Kumbale has not let anything affect the schooling of his students. The children are as adept at singing nursery rhymes in English as they are with folk songs in Marathi. Some of his students like Ashish outscore young software professionals when it comes to puzzles in logical reasoning!

Mr. Amar Parit, Headmaster at Guhini, has a similar story to tell. He is from Kolhapur, his teachers are from different parts of Maharashtra but would have found it challenging to adjust to the rural life themselves. That has not deterred Mr. Amar and his teachers from continuing to improve the schooling at Guhini. Mr. Amar himself has made multiple visits to parents who don’t allow the children to continue with school – convincing few and keeps trying with others. And looking at the friendly relationship between the teacher and the students, I thought, corporal punishment must surely be an urban phenomenon.

Hats off to the teachers for putting in their best in such trying circumstances and for their devotion, sincerity and in my opinion, nobility.

Outreach, Cognizant Technology Solutions

How many companies have a senior employee working full-time for Corporate Social Responsibility activities? Ashwin Bramhe is one such person and his passion and single-minded determination to bring about a positive difference to the lives of the underprivileged is the reason why Outreach, the CSR arm of Cognizant Technology Solutions is doing good work with schools in these remote areas around Pune.

Yes, it is a great step by Cognizant but it is Ashwin’s zeal to contribute where it matters most that drives this initiative. I met Ashwin just once but could see the impact he had on the children, the teachers and the villagers.

Of course, even with his energy, Ashwin need others to help him out in this mission. Ashwin’s job is to connect schools that are not so well-equipped with the basic facilities with different business units of Cognizant which are looking to adopt such schools. When they adopt these schools, the business units commit the time of the associates who volunteer for the Outreach activities. These volunteers then spend weekends at these schools conducting workshops, activities and bring about lot of joy in the lives of these children.

Well done, Ashwin. Well done, Outreach. Well done, volunteers from Cognizant.

We are also doing our bit in helping Outreach help these schools. We will be providing library services to these schools – we give them a set of 100 odd books which they keep for 3 months. The Head-Masters have promised us that the children will make full use of these books – story session after the morning prayer, during school hours and to take home and show their reading skills to the parents. We will be replacing their books with a different set of 100 books every 3 months. Thus, the children will never get bored with the books.

We are quite excited about this partnership with Outreach. The joy that I saw on the children’s faces when they flipped through a Dr. Seuss’s Cat in the Hat or the Amar Chitra Katha comic book on Abhimanyu was just AWESOME.

In the coming months, we plan to do story-telling sessions along with the Outreach volunteers.

To be honest, when we – the founders – started working on Tender Leaves, we all wanted Tender Leaves to somehow help those who can’t afford/don’t have books to read; then we thought ok, let’s get things started first and then we will do what we really want to do. This has happened serendipitously but helping corporates achieve their CSR objectives through library services to the underprivileged is a hugely satisfying experience for us.

Do you know any other Ashwin who is on a mission to help such schools? Do you know an Outreach that wants to bring about real change in schools? We’d love to work with them.


One response to this post.

  1. 🙂 Really glad to see this. All the best to Outreach and Tender Leaves.

    Some things I found heartening:

    That the teachers are actually teaching at the schools. The situation at the schools in Uttar Pradesh, I’ve seen, is much worse.

    Corporal punishment – There is none! Such an interesting bit of news. Wonder what makes it the norm in city schools. The answer, in my opinion, lies in the well-meaning but terribly misguided attempts by teachers at imbibing some ‘academic discipline’ in the child.

    Parents, in fact, often end up thinking that a school where the child is being punished is a school that ‘cares more’. Heh


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