It was a memorable Independence Day this year for 51 Class 10 students of the Colaba Municipal School in Mumbai, as all of them got a spanking new smartphone as a gift from members of the Rotary Club of Bombay Harbour, RID 3141.
The club, with a membership of 40, decided to make this gesture to the less fortunate students from this school to help them attend online classes which will be crucial for their performance at their board exam in 2021.
Club president Jayesh Pandya says they chose this particular school to help the senior students with mobile phones as “our club has had some association or the other with this particular school for almost 20 years.” In the past several years, the members have built a basketball court, organised science exhibitions, given career counselling to upgrade the students’ skills, provided special sports equipment and other facilities as required by the school.
As the corona pandemic tightened its stranglehold on Mumbai, along with the rest of India and the entire world, “we wanted to help the students once again, and so had a discussion with the principal on how to go about that.” The principal suggested that many of the 120 students in Class 10 do not have smartphones, which are now essential for them to keep up with their online classes. So with the help of the principal and six teachers, 51 students, daughters and sons of daily wagers, slumdwellers and other underprivileged people, were identified and the club undertook the responsibility of gifting them mobile phones.
Pandya explains that they didn’t want to “give these children just any phone. We wanted to give them instruments that would have sufficient memory and the features to be able to properly attend their online classes and store study material.”
The hat was passed around to club members as well as non-Rotarian friends and relatives and ₹3.5 lakh required to buy 51 instruments was collected. Again, one of the Rotarians who knows a mobile phone dealer was roped in to get a neat discount and “also the right kind of model, which would be the most suitable for online classes. We were very particular about giving them the right model of the phone because last year this school had a success rate of over 94 per cent in their board exams, and we want the school to keep up its good record,” he added.
Keeping in mind the need for small gatherings and social distancing, the 51 students were called in two batches and the mobiles were distributed to each one of them by the Rotarians and the dignitaries such as Madhukar Palkar, education officer, BMC (Bombay Municipal Corporation), Assistant Commissioner of Police Dalvi and others. Four Jio representatives were also present to activate the sim cards — the Rotarians had earlier submitted the Aadhaar cards and other necessary documents to the service provider and have also given the students free connectivity for the first four months. Future renewals will have to be done by the students, but if some of them have a problem, the club members have promised to help.
Pandya adds that 15 Rotarians contributed for this project led by project director Devang Vora, and supported by Rtns Nilesh Ruparel and Dilip Jani.
Apart from this project, RC Bombay Harbour members have done other Covid-relief work such as distributing 4,000 free meals during July, and joining other clubs to give critical care medical equipment to hospitals.
For Muskan Shaikh and A Ashish, Class 10 students of the Colaba Municipal School, the Rotarians of RC Bombay Harbour are none less than angels. “Ma’am, Jayesh Pandya sir, and other club members have been helping our school for 20 years. They have given us books, been counselling us after classes, conducted competitions for us and given us prizes. And now they have given us the biggest and most exciting gift, a smartphone,” gushes 15-year-old Muskan.
The daughter of a daily wage labourer, Mehboob Shaikh, she, her parents and two other siblings live in a slum area in Ambedkarnagar. “My family cannot afford a mobile phone and I was so worried about how I would attend online classes, complete the worksheets and other homework. But now with the smartphone that this Rotary club has given us, I am able to complete my worksheets and submit them well in time,” says the chirpy girl in a chat with Rotary News. Insisting on speaking in English, which she does with confidence, she adds, “And doing that is such a huge relief! All my tension is now gone.”
Muskan answers her phone on the first ring, showing how precious this device is for her. She has three two-hour classes every day, and her three siblings are in school too. She promises to work very hard, do a degree course and then become a psychiatrist. Asked why this profession, she says, “Because I want to know all about the mysteries of the brain!”
A Ashish is the son of a driver, and though along with his two other brothers, he studies in Marathi medium, “my younger sister, 8, is in English medium,” he says proudly. Asked why, he says simply, “Because she is the smartest of all of us, and could speak English from a very young age.”
He didn’t find it hard to learn quickly how to use a smartphone because his father, Rajpal Nathuvalmiki already has one “and I would use it sometimes. But now it is such a relief to have my own phone and when I don’t have classes, I give it to my brothers or sister to use it for their classes.” The 16-year-old is in awe of Rotarians and grateful to them because “their club has been helping our school so much in the past.”
His dream is to become a police officer and towards this goal, he promises to “work very hard, pursue a degree in science and then get into police service,” he adds.
I request them to send their pictures, and good quality, sharp images land in my Whatsapp in five minutes flat. Comments Jaishree, at Rotary News, wistfully: “If only the Rotarians were as quick…”