Two years ago, Arun Mattami’s dream of pursuing medicine was almost nipped in the bud when his father expressed his inability to pay Rs 1.25 lakh required to enrol in the private coaching classes to prepare for the National Eligibility Cum Entrance Test (NEET).
A chance WhatsApp forward about the free coaching conducted by Lift for Upliftment (LFU), a student initiative for preparation of NEET, was a glimmer of hope for the 18-year-old of the Madia community (recognised as a Primitive Tribe) from Bhamragad taluka of the remote Gadchiroli district.
On September 7, when the results of the all-India entrance test for admission to the undergraduate courses for medicine were announced, Arun scored an impressive 450 marks (62.5 per cent) out of 720.
Bhamragad taluka, which is located on the borders of Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh, is a hotbed for Maoists.
Education has always been at the bottom of the priority list for the people in the taluka as finances and struggles for survival take the lead in daily lives. Arun’s father, Lalsu, manages to run the family through his meagre income from farming and the wages he gets working as a hired driver.
Coming from a Naxal-troubled area, Arun — the second among the three children of the family — attributed his dreams of higher education to his motivation. After finishing primary and secondary schooling at the government-run schools in the area, the 18-year-old enrolled in higher secondary school in his hometown of Bhamragad.
NEET was an unknown term and when the young boy realised the uphill task required to crack the national entrance test, his dream to join the medical field suddenly looked very far off.
“LFU, an initiative of present and former students of BJ Medical College in Pune came as a ray of hope. Coaching was free, and they were even ready to finance the costs of daily needs when I was in the hostel,” he said.
While LFU volunteers were ready to provide all possible help, the challenges for Arun were many. Due to remote coaching, the classes were held online and the poor network in Bhamragad was always a challenge. The resourceful volunteers, including Prathmesh Dadas (Ulgulaan the name used for special batches for tribal students in-charge) and Yogini Shirode recorded the classes, which allowed the teenager to catch up with his peers when technology failed him.
Elaborating on his aspiration to be a doctor, Arun said that he wants to serve people back home in Gadchiroli as the place has only a few good doctors. The unavailability of timely medical assistance snatched away his grandmother, which only strengthened his resolve to address the issue.