From begging to school


From begging to selling children’s colouring book at the traffic signal in Thane, Mumbai, Bhuhan had done it all. But, “Mein kabhi school nahi gaya tha (I never went to school); Amma would never allow me,” says the seven-year-old boy. His family survives on the Rs 40 or 50 a day that he earns at the signal. “This is the truth of many children from disadvantaged backgrounds in Mumbai. We, at RC Thane Hills, D 3142, thought if they can’t go to school, let’s bring the school to them,” says club member Atul Bhide, who is also the District Coordinator for the project, ‘Right to go’, which was covered in the November 2014 issue of Rotary News.

Under a flyover opposite the signal at Thane is a 40 ft container painted in bright yellow, with a board on it that reads ‘Signal School’ and this is where Bhuhan is learning “ABC…123. I also know the names of vegetables in English and my mother is happy, that I get good food to eat here,” says the delighted boy. Munni, another student who was born under the same bridge where the school is located today, says, “I want to be a teacher, when
I grow up and teach girls like me to desist from begging.”

Bhide recalls that this school was born, when the Municipal Commissioner sought the club’s support to start India’s first Signal School “and our Club President Anindya Dasgupta gave the green signal.”

The Municipal Corporation provided the place and a builder donated the 40 ft container. Painted and fitted with a bathroom and separate toilets for boys and girls, the Signal School also has a play area, a staff room and is equipped with e-learning ­equipment — all at the club’s expense. “Everything is bright and vibrant to attract the street kids,” adds Bhide.

Teaching and management ­support is undertaken by a local NGO — Samarth Bharat. Apart from the regular lessons that are taught here, a separate art and music class is conducted by a flute artist, Pandit Vivek Sonar.

All students assemble by 8 am and are asked to brush their teeth followed by a bath. Hot breakfast is served to them and “it is a different menu each day,” says Bhuhan.  Lessons commence by 11 am and school gets over at 2 pm. The children are allowed to use the play area during their breaks and before they leave for their homes. A medical check-up is conducted, once a month.

Bhide believes that the biggest achievement of the school came within three months of its establishment as “all the 20 children who were enrolled here have stopped begging.”  In September, the club was recognised for its support by the Mayor of Thane City, Sanjay More, and the Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation, Sanjeev Jaiswal. n

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