At 9 am sharp, Dilip Chaudhary and Ramila Vasava park their two-wheelers on a winding path leading to the Satpura mountain range to start a treacherous uphill climb. They have to get to their class of 52 students in the tribal village of Cheen Kuwa of Nandod taluka in Gujarat’s Narmada district.
Climb 7 km, teach, take care of mid-day meal, climb down, repeat: this is the routine of the two government primary teachers on working days at Cheen Kuwa Primary School. Wearing a slip-resistant floaters and sports shoes to make it through the non-motorable terrain, Dilip, 33, and Ramila, 39, begin their trek Friday.
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The day is special. There is a special meal of dal dhokli to be served to the students, a Teachers’ Day treat in advance, as they have an off on Saturday on account of Janmashtami.
The path through the mountain, located nearly 800 metres above sea level, winds through slippery loose mud and rocks. At the highest peak, the stretch is less than a metre wide. The teachers squeeze past the edges. There is no alternate, safer route.
Ramila shares, “When I joined in 2013, there was not even a walking trail. It was just overgrown thicket and often, I came across snakes. I requested villagers to clear some shrubs along the route.”
Now, both are familiar with “friendly stepping stones”. “The first few days it look very long to get to school. Now, we are able to cover the seven-km stretch within an hour,” says Ramila.
It was in 2013 that district authorities acknowledged the need to start a school in Cheen Kuwa village, home to 400 families with meagre incomes from marginal farm yields. The villagers had no means to send their children to the nearest school located in the valley.
Villager Kishor Vasava says, “The terrain is so risky that the smaller children cannot walk alone and for that long. Once they reach Class VI, they can walk down in groups. We are waiting for the authorities to fulfil their promise of building a proper school.”
The school and an anganwadi that run from bamboo huts of villagers have come as the first step towards education for the children. The school runs in Magan Vasava’s hut. The students of Classes I-V sit in a single dark room, with a blackboard placed on the floor. Magan’s wife Kuni cooks the special Teachers’ Day meal.
Dilip says, “After the first rain in June, the power snapped. No one has climbed up to fix the problem.”
Rangesh Vasava, a class V student says, “I attend school every day as there is nothing else to do in our village. After school, I help my father in the farm. If I get an opportunity, I will study hard and take my family to a better place.”
Narmada primary district education officer Arvind Patel says, “If the roads and building department constructs the road, I will be able to construct the school immediately.”
Narmada collector Sandip Sagale says the proposal to construct an approach road to the village hit a roadblock due to environmental concerns. “The area comes under the forest department. The state government has granted a budget for the road, but there are permissions pending. We are trying hard to build the road under MNREGA project too.”
For Dilip and Ramila, the climb is a call of duty. “We have no other choice. We have been posted here and till we are here, we will fulfil our commitment towards the children. At the end of the tiring uphill journey every day, we sleep very well and content,” says Dilip.