The untiring efforts of the passionate and dedicated Rotarians from Rotary Club of Bombay Worli (RCB Worli) were recognised and celebrated by the senior leadership of the entire district RI 3141, when their dream project of complete transformation of Zugrewadi village was inaugurated in October. This village is over three hours’ drive from Mumbai, and the club decided way back in 2016 to focus its energy on improving the living standards and schooling facilities in this tribal hamlet with 1,650 inhabitants.
Today if this tribal village in Raigad district of Maharashtra has a spanking new school building with well-equipped library and laboratory, shining classrooms, separate toilet blocks with water for both girls and boys, and healthy children with minimal absenteeism due to health problems, the credit first goes to both its dedicated principal Ravi Kajale and members of
Kajale is no ordinary government teacher; in his 24 years as a teacher, first in another village — Anandwadi — and for the last seven years in Zugrewadi, he has always been passionate about his vocation. In 2016, when he was posted to this tribal village near Mumbai, he was shocked to find the school building was falling apart and in dire need of repair, the children were pale and sickly, diseases were rampant and due to that attendance was dismal.
There were so many problems, but the biggest one was the state of the building; it needed urgent repairs but due to the local village politics, the repair work/construction could not be completed. “So I used to ask my friends to get me help of any kind from any individual or organisation,” says Kajale. His educational background is interesting and gives us an insight into why he has been helping so many students complete higher education. He himself went to a Marathi medium school in Mumbai but when he was in Class 10, his father died. “I didn’t know what to do, I had no money to pay my fees, buy books or even clothes. But I was sure that I wanted to continue my education, go to college and study in English medium. Towards this goal, I started working and saved money to pay my fees.”
Finally, through sheer hard work, he completed his MA and B Ed and was posted to a government school in Anandwadi, made rapid strides, was promoted as principal and even won the Maharashtra government’s award as an ‘ideal teacher’. Commendably, he used the award money of ₹1 lakh to pay the fees of some tribal children from his village to complete higher education.
It is with a lot of pride that he told Rotary News, “Thanks to my personal efforts, four students from our school (which is only till Class 8), went for higher education and became engineers.” Notably, the service of one of the engineers that he helped and mentored, Vijay Mahase, was hired by the Rotarians for the clutch of village improvement projects they have done in this village over the last seven years.
One of the reasons for Kajale’s success in improving the quality of learning the children imbibe is that soon after his transfer to this tribal village, he quickly learnt the local language. “When the children have some difficulty in understanding a subject or a concept, I explain it to them in their own language — Thakari or Katkari — and they find it much easier to understand the subject. Slowly but surely, their academic performance has improved over the years,” he gushes.
The club has spent ₹1.5 crore over seven years in constructing four new classrooms, toilet blocks, deepening village wells, creating check dams, conducting health camps and improving the children’s nutrition
Sachin Singhvi, club president, puts the cost of the work done in this village for the last several years, including constructing four new classrooms, toilet blocks, deepening village wells and creating check dams, conducting health camps and taking care of the nutrition of the children and basic healthcare needs of the villagers, at around ₹1.5 crore.
Wind back to 2016 and Kajale, who was getting help in small bits and pieces for his beloved school by approaching small and scattered NGOs, mentioned his mission to one of his classmates in Mumbai who was a financial adviser. That man directed his principal friend to a Rotarian from RCB Worli, Prabhakar Nagashe, who in turn took him to Kavita Godbole, who was then handling women and child development projects for their club. Later on, she went on to become the club president.
Kavita was struck by the sincerity and passion of the teacher seated before her, and expressed her desire to visit the village. Kajale was only too happy to organise a visit. Kavita took two more Rotarians from the club and they were convinced after the visit that this was a worthy service project their club should take on. She herself calls it her ‘baby’ and says: “I was convinced that this was a baby I wanted to adopt and it has remained my baby for the last seven years.”
What she saw in Zugrewadi, a tribal hamlet of 110 households and some 650 people, in 2016, is still fresh in her mind. “The children’s health was very bad and they couldn’t even study because they were malnourished and had so many health issues. I couldn’t believe that just three hours’ drive from Mumbai there was a village where there was so much of hunger and poverty.”
First of all, she organised a paediatrician from the KEM Hospital to travel to the village and do a check-up to assess the nutrition level of the children. “This village is located in a forest and mountainous area and the children were eating mostly some roots that grow in the forest and were suffering from several tapeworm and other related health problems. Their nutrition level needed to be improved urgently.”
The children’s health has improved dramatically with near-zero illness and 100 per cent attendance thanks to delicious, nutritious food being served
To begin with, the Rotarians immediately organised funds from their club members to give the schoolchildren nutritious khichdi for lunch, and after a few weeks added an egg and peanut and gur (jaggery) chiki (a healthy candy) to their diet. The children were subjected to a deworming procedure and regular medical camps were organised to assess their health and nutritional status.
Next the club engaged four students who had graduated from the Tata Institute of Social Sciences to do independent research on the village, its short and long-term needs and problems, and brief the Rotarians on what they could do to improve the villagers’ lives. The students submitted a report and the work to be done over a five-year period.
For seven years now, the khichdi, egg and chiki diet has been continuing and Kajale beams when he says, “The children’s health has improved dramatically, there is near-zero illness now, their attendance is 100 per cent because such nutritious food is served that absenteeism due to health problems has fallen dramatically. Earlier, they rarely used to bathe, and never cleaned their hands and feet. But now due to the awareness spread by the health camps held by the Rotarians, their hygiene levels have improved dramatically. Now, in all of Raigad district, this has become an ‘ideal school’.”
With the club now having a paediatrician — Dr Paula Goel — as a member, she goes regularly for the health camps. General medical check-up camps are also held regularly and those villagers having dental or eye problems are given treatment, with cataract surgery being done in Mumbai. The women of the village who were found to have vitamin and iron deficiencies also have been attended to.
Next the Rotarians turned their attention to the dilapidated school building. When there was heavy rain and wind, “the chhaapra (roof) flew away and year after year we kept repairing and maintaining the building,” says Kavita. But they knew that well-built classrooms with concrete roofs were required, and more money would have to be raised. Apart from donations from its own members, as the club expanded the scope and reach of its services in Zugrewadi, it roped in the corporates.
Singhvi thanks Mammoet India, K T Exports, Varija Madhava Foundation, Switz Food, V N Patkar Memorial Trust, Manjula Bansal, Harikishandas Tulsiram Aggarwal Charity Trust, the Avani Ajmera family (for financing the bund dam) and club member Ashish Meghani’s friend who donated ₹12 lakh for the toilet blocks.
Principal Kajale used the Maharastra government’s ideal schoolteacher award money of ₹1 lakh to pay the fees of tribal children for higher education
Kavita adds that the new building which is “completely made of concrete is very modern and environment-friendly with open brick work; we’ve not spared any efforts, and all facilities that you’d find in a private school with a well-equipped library and laboratory are there. The old building too has undergone a massive renovation and painting and new desks and benches have been provided. Now totally there are eight classrooms, a library, laboratory, and a separate kitchen and a dining area. Earlier the food was being cooked under the stairs.”
Singhvi adds that apart from the library and well-equipped laboratory, the club has also given the school a well-equipped computer room and a playground with suitable equipment for various age groups. The school can now accommodate 200-plus students, 80 more from its present strength of 120, he adds.
Lack of water for household use and washing was a huge problem in this village, which being on a hilly terrain, cannot retain monsoon water which runs off. “Once the monsoon water was not available, women had to walk for 8km to fetch water. We identified two places where the water could be prevented from running off and stored, and constructed check dams and also provided borewells. The result is now the villagers have access to clean water for drinking and household needs throughout the year. During the last three years, water has remained in the dams till May-June, when the monsoon brings fresh water,” he adds.
Women of the village are extremely grateful to the Rotarians for saving them the arduous task of fetching water from as far as 8km; and they have also benefitted from regular medical camps, and along with adolescent girls, receive sanitary napkins too.
On Oct 29, when club members, along with senior Rotarians from RID 3141 and officials from the Raigad revenue district, came to Zugrewadi for the inauguration of the spanking new school facilities, “the incoming district governor Arun Bhargava, who had accompanied us to the village several years ago for one of our projects couldn’t believe his eyes! He told me that you people have completely transformed this village and I can’t believe this is the same village I had visited several years ago.”
An ebullient Kajale recalls, “Us din na mei apni khushi sama pa raha tha, na apna anand chhipa sakta tha (I couldn’t hide my joy); thanks to Rotary, my school has become one of the best in our state. You won’t believe it, but the whole day I was crying of joy….”
The women no longer have to walk for 8km to fetch water, with the construction of check dams and borewells
Smiles Singhvi, “Actually, he was crying even during his speech. He was so emotional, and he told the deputy director from the education department who had come for the inaugural event, that please don’t transfer me from here. The children are doing so well now!”
One of the best features of this project is its long-term nature and sustainability as also the fact that as many as seven successive presidents and club officers have shown both interest and devotion in taking it forward. Singhvi says the transformation of the village will continue and the club has drawn up a series of plans to further improve the lives of Zugrewadi villagers. These plans include providing solar energy for both the school and the street lights; getting more qualified teachers with the help of the education officials in Raigad district; setting up scholarships for deserving students for further studies; organising nurses training for some girls through a tie-up with a hospital; and carrying out vocational and skill development training for villagers in farming, carpentry, plumbing, electrical and masonry work.
To begin with they recently took an agri expert with them to the village and “he explained to the villagers the benefits of collective farming. Right now, they cultivate only one crop — paddy — and that too only for three months in a year,” says the club president.
But the new concept of collective farming will take a little more time to sink in; for one, the average landholding is rather small; and as is well-known, each farmer has attachment to his land, and many villagers have no land at all. “But this expert has explained to them that their income from land can go up only if they cultivate multiple crops and do it through collective farming. He has advised them to plant vegetables such as drumsticks and bitter gourd.”
As Singhvi and Kavita express satisfaction at their club successfully converting a backward Adivasi village from want and dependency to some progress and hope for the future for its inhabitants, another past president of the club, Mehul Zatakia, aptly sums up the commendable thread of continuity that defines this project and sets it apart. “The flawless inauguration involved a massive coordination between our club, district, various government agencies, the villagers, the school and its students. The hard work put in by club president Sachin Singhvi and his entire team (including Rotaractors) was commendable. Full credit to Kavita Godbole who has steered this project successfully through various presidents and continues to be the driving force for this commendable initiative.”
The inaugural event was attended by Kiran Patil, CEO of Raigad ZP, Neha Balsare, deputy director SCERT, Pune, RID 3141 DG Sandip Agarwalla, DGE Arun Bhargava and PDGs Lata Subraidu and Sunnil Mehra. Said Agarwalla, “It is a matter of great pride for RID 3141 that RCB Worli has taken on such an impactful and meaningful work in this village for the last seven years. Under the leadership of president Singhvi and project director Kavita Godbole this remarkable project showed what the enthusiastic and dedicated team work of club members can achieve.”
PDG Mehra added: “It is a pleasure and such an emotional moment to see such great work done by the clubs of our district. RCB Worli is really changing lives and impacting communities.”
It speaks a lot for the efforts of principal Kajale and Rotarians from RCB Worli that one tribal girl from the village has cleared the NEET exam and Singhvi says his club will give all support, including payment of fees, to this first medical student from the village.