Happy Schools, happier children

With its recent completion of two more Happy Schools, the Rotary Club of ­Dombivli, RI District 3142, has so far transformed, over the last four years, 18 government, government-aided and privately managed schools located in rural and tribal areas surrounding Murbad and Shahapur taluks in Maharashtra. The total amount spent on this project is over ₹1 crore to help improve the conditions in which children learn.

One of the most recent schools the club took over for renovation and sprucing up is at Belkadi village in Shahapur taluk, located some 90km from Dombivli.

A past president of the club and a core team member in the Happy Schools project, Sandeep ­Phoolgaonkar, recalls that some of the club members “visited the ­Prathmik Vidyamandir at Belkadi a few months ago, and found that the 34 students of this primary school were studying under pathetic conditions as the only classroom they had was leaking badly when it rained. And the school was lacking the most basic facilities.”

DG Milind Kulkarni (R) inaugurates a handwash facility at the Prathmik Vidyamandir, Belkadi village.

The club members decided to take up the renovation of this school and began working on it in Dec 2023. The one classroom-building was in dire condition and was demolished and the building reconstructed, with provision of proper windows and doors, proper ventilation, electrical connections, fans, lights, blackboard, etc. The existing but ramshackle toilet blocks were renovated, with separate toilets for girls and boys having running water and an overhead water tank. A new handwash station was also put up and piped water supply given. A stage was constructed to provide the students a venue for special school events, and the compound wall was repaired and painted to give a sense of security to both the teachers and students.

The entire project cost of ₹13 lakh was given by the club’s CSR partner Centaur Pharma.

Dilapidated structure of the Belkadi village school.

The second school which got a spanking new avatar by these Rotarians is the Zilla Parishad School in Wanjale village in Murbad taluk. Once this school was identified, members of the club’s core committee for Happy Schools made an inspection visit to the school. “There are 20 girls and 14 boys studying in this primary school and they all belong to tribal families. Once again, during our inspection, we found the school’s condition was so bad that it was actually unsafe to use the toilets. The kitchen was nonfunctional due to absence of basic facilities for preparing midday meals, and there was no boundary wall whatsoever,” says immediate past president and project chair Shankar Sathawane.

Rotarians distribute sweets to students, staff and villagers at the Belkadi school.

Setting out in right earnest to completely transform this primary school, the Rotarians constructed a compound wall surrounding the entire school premises and provided an 8ft-high iron gate, “complete with a nameplate of the school. This gives a sense of pride and security to the students and the teachers. The kitchen was completely renovated and made functional by providing shade, a platform and new flooring.”

A stage was constructed for school events and the classrooms were provided with iron grills and doors for safety. The school building was painted to give a new look, new separate toilet blocks for boys and girls were constructed, along with a handwash station. Sports equipment was also installed on the school premises.

Actor Amitabh Bachchan at an event at the Rotary School for Deaf.

This particular school was done in partnership with the club’s Rotaract club. “Three artists from the Rotaract club were assigned the task of painting the walls with beautiful, colourful pictures. They were given the freedom to choose their own theme, and they chose that of a train with rainbow colours,” said ­Phoolgaonkar, himself a Rotaractor till the age of 25, before he joined RC Dombivli in 2005. An interior designer by profession, he has worked on improving 25 to 30 gram panchayat, zilla parishad schools in Adivasi areas in his personal capacity for the last several years and has helped the club identify schools which are in a pathetic condition and desperately need help and support.

Club members at the old premises of the school at Wanjale.

This project cost around ₹15 lakh and the funds were again provided by the CSR partner Centaur Pharma. School headmaster Rajaram Gaykar, teachers, students and their parents expressed their happiness at the complete transformation of their school, as RID 3142 DG Milind Kulkarni inaugurated the project and the Rotarians handed over the school to the management in the first week of March. Kulkarni complimented the club for consistently working to convert schools to “happy schools” category, and that too “in this remote location bringing cheer and smiles on the face of the teachers and students, mostly from the tribal community.” Sweets were distributed to the students during the inaugural, attended by club president Girish Pophale, secretary Radhika Shirali, other club members and their families.

Installation of Interact Club at the Rotary School for Deaf.

Phoolgaonkar said these schools are attended mostly by children of tribals, who work as farm labourers, or in the brick kilns; they have no landholding of their own, and for them it is really a godsend to send their children to beautiful, well-developed schools. For the club members, the completion of these two schools means that in the last four years they have beautified and spruced up a total of 18 schools at a cost of ₹1 crore. “When the environment changes, and the schools are beautified, children feel like coming to school. The bigger advantage is for the girls; now that we have provided separate toilets with running water (there are borewells ­available and the Rotarians have provided the pipeline and overhead tanks) in these schools, girls have stopped dropping out from schools at puberty and there is 100 per cent attendance of girls in schools,” he smiles.

DG Kulkarni with club president Girish Pophale and his team at the refurbished school in Wanjhle village.

Sathawane thanked club member “Dr ­Ghanshyam Shirali for his tireless efforts in getting the CSR funds to execute this project,” and added that the zilla parishad school at Umroli Khurd, done by them, had also got “the cleanliest school award in the taluk recently. Our next Happy Schools project at the ZP School, Nadhai, near Murbad taluk is nearing completion and will be handed over soon to the school authorities,” he added.

Christmas celebrations at the Rotary School for Deaf.

RC Dombivli also runs another significant and long-term project titled ‘Rotary School for Deaf,’ which was established in 1970. Chartered in 1965, this club now has 65 members and it first set up this school for the hearing-impaired in Thane district with just four students. “It now provides education from KG to Class 10. We also give college education to 191 students,” he says. Managed by the Rotary Seva Kendra Trust set up by RC Dombivli, this school has about 350 students till Class 10.

Students create clay models of Lord Ganesha.

Phoolgaonkar adds that for those students who want to study further — Class 11–12 and thereafter, a three-year college degree, “we organise classes for them. It is our own building and has four storeys; we have ample space to hold classes for students who want to go for higher education. We have organised teachers for them and help them appear for the examinations as private students. We had started the school with just four special children and it has now grown to 350 students with a hearing handicap. They study till Class 10.”

For the college lessons, the club has employed 7–8 teachers to coach the students. For the school there are 15 teachers. The activities of the school have been funded over the years from donations given by club members, he adds.

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