By Aparajita Ghosh
Mumbai: A group of young students of Mumbai’s Phule Nagar have collectively started an education centre naming it after PhD scholar Rohit Vemula. “We did not have such facilities when we were young. So we are trying to provide it to the children,” said Prafull Sawant, 25, Co-ordinator of the Centre.
The area is populated mostly by Dalits, with most of them working as daily wagers. With longer working hours, the workers are not able to provide an equitable education to their children.
Dr Rohit Vemula Education Centre was started in a small enclosed space in 2016 with 15 students. “We had to visit homes and convince parents to send their kids to the Centre,” said Pooja Lahane.
Pooja, 20, who is currently pursuing Art Teacher Diploma from Sir JJ School of Arts in Mumbai, has often visited the Centre in early days to take part in the competitions and to study for her exams, later joined as a volunteer and teaches arts and crafts to the children. “We aim to make the books reach to most of the kids in the area,” she said.
The Centre was initially started with the funds provided by local social workers, who later withdrew. Today it is run by the volunteers and a few IIT students. “Among us, only 3 to 4 are working, so it was difficult to arrange funds after managing other expenses. The working coordinators try to contribute more despite financial issues and student volunteers’ pay according to their will,” said Prafull.
The Centre today has additional facilities of internet, computers and library with a varied collection of books, from literature, kid’s story books to research and informative books as well and also offer career counselling sessions, UPSC classes and PTA meetings to keep track of the students’ activities.
“We help students whose education is halted due to difficulties”, said Siddharth Shirsat, 30, Assistant Coordinator.
“When we started the library, students started pouring in,” said Vaibhav, Library Educator at the Centre. “We started this initiative so the generation grows into an educated one and continues to teach the next,” he added.
“There are usually 20-30 students for my class and I teach them according to their level of understanding. It helps them learn better,” said Anand Ratna Arun, who is doing his PhD in Material Sciences from IIT Mumbai and volunteering at the Centre since 2018. He takes Science and Mathematics classes on the weekends for the school going students.
“We initially moved into a 10×10 room with coordinators and few students”, said Prafull. The students mostly learn till 10th standard in the Centre and are offered help with career guidance, form-filling, admission process, entrance tests, etcetera.
In a lockdown, the Centre is facing financial issues and had to shift to a different spot in Phule Nagar. “We want to grow the Centre out of slums and continue to spread knowledge,” said Vaibhav.