At Vanicha Pada, one of the 28 adivasi villages in Goregaon’s Aarey Milk Colony, a whole host of unfavourable conditions converge to make the successful education of its children a serious challenge. Historically, it has remained at the margins of the education system.
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According to Balu Dhakal Mahale, resident of the village, of the total population of around 250 people, there are 20 to 25 adults who have been to school but only up to Class 8 or 9.
However, the efforts of a group of volunteers from NGO Start Giving Start Living (SGSL) attempting to provide educational aid here are helping to bring learning on the map.
Eighty per cent of the school-going children here are enrolled in the municipal school in Aarey Colony, while the rest are enrolled in private schools.
However, enrolment is far from equivalent to education as attendance tends to be slack for multiple reasons. Many children miss classes because they need to do household chores or work for money. Ishrat, who is enroled in the tenth standard, works at a garage and his irregular engagement with school means that he can barely write or spell.
Due to lack of medical facilities, the children are constantly falling ill. The Aarey Hospital, which is supposed to cater to all 28 padas, desperately lacks funds and its hours of operation are only from 10 am to 4 pm. Residents of Vanicha Pada said in practice, it only remains open till 1 pm.
Shailendra Parte, founder of SGSL, said, “When these children fall ill, they remain ill for around four weeks.”
For three years now, the volunteers of SGSL, consisting of working professionals and students, head to the village on Saturdays and Sundays to try and amend some of these problems. They conduct lectures to close the gaping holes in the children’s classroom, counsel them on family and other problems. Parte said, “We intend for our efforts to reach out to the other padas in due time but we decided to begin with Vanicha Pada after taking a survey since we found that it was in dire need of assistance.”
Fifty-three children from the village attend their lectures. Their special educational needs warrant experimentation with teaching formats, so they are segregated not according to which standard they are enroled in, but according to their ability. The volunteers are also working to persuade the parents of drop-outs to re-enrol their children.
Maya dropped out of school in the second standard when her sister was born as she needed to look after her, but last year, she rejoined school after two years. Lack of menstrual health awareness is another major reason for girl children to miss classes. Volunteers are providing information on the issue and distributing eco-friendly sanitary pads on a monthly basis.
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