Eighteen-year-old Mohan Kale sits in his classroom burrowing into his tenth-standard textbooks. From knocking at car windows to selling his knick-knacks at the traffic signals to sitting in this classroom preparing for his board exams, Mohan has come a long way in the past one year. The humble Signal Shala (school) at the Teen Hath Naka in Thane, he feels, has made that possible. Operating out of a shipping container under a flyover, the school completed a year on June 14.
Started by a Pune-based NGO, Samarth Bharat Vyaspith (SBV), the school has now got accreditation from the Thane Municipal Corporation (TMC). Apart from providing education, the Signal Shala also conducts activities like sports, dance and games. The NGO also organises regular health check-ups.
This year, the NGO aims to reach out to all kids begging at different signals in Thane. “By the end of July, we will begin school bus services that will ferry kids from all signals in Thane and by August 15, we aim to make the city completely child-beggar free,”says Batu Sawant, CEO of the NGO.
For many kids like Mohan, the school has brought about a phenomenal change in their lives. Living at traffic signals, the children would support their parents by selling flowers or other items and in desperate times even turn to begging. On most days, they did not know where their next meal would come from.
“While we cannot stop them from selling their wares as it is their only source of income, we have taught them not to beg. Initially, the parents would force them into it but with our counseling sessions, we have been able to stop it,” says Aarti Parab, one of their teachers. The school that began with 22 students, now has 37 children from kindergarten to the tenth standard.
Educating children, many of whom have had no formal schooling, the Signal Shala takes pride in all its students who took exams and cleared them in the last academic year.
Two students, Mohan and Dasharath Pawar, have now been admitted to a TMC school for their tenth standard. Convincing the parents of these children was not easy, the NGO says, but they seem to have come around now.
“Our parents did not educate us and today, we have to live this life. We are hoping that education will change that for our children. In this one year, we have seen our child’s life improve,” says Dilip Shinde, a parent of two kids studying in the school.
Finding it to be a viable model to bring street kids to mainstream schooling, the government is considering to implement it across the state. In January, Education Minister Vinod Tawde visited the school.
They were also approached by the education department to start similar schools in Amar Mahal and Bandra signals in Mumbai where many children are seen living by traffic signals. With the school going to the kids, many like Mohan and Dasharath have hopes to live their dreams. While Mohan aspires to be an engineer, Dasharath wants to become a police officer.