A remote Pune school brings hope to villagers

Tucked away amidst the hills of a remote village Velvand, Samarth Vidya Mandir, now stands as the only secondary school across more than five villages within a 35-kilometre radius of Bhor taluka.

It is the result of incessant efforts of the headmaster, a native of Osmanabad, Shaukatali Shaikh, who left his life in the Pune city along with his family, to create what he calls, “a haven of learning and self-sustainability.”

Shaikh joined the school as the headmaster in 2005, with almost no students coming to study under a two-room dilapidated structure. “The school was in a very bad state, both on the surface and on the inside. While the structure was crumbling under the leaking tin roof, the lack of basic facilities, like washrooms and transport, deterred students even more from coming to school. The school did not even have government recognition,” says Shaikh.

While the first challenge to get a government authorisation was overcome in a few months, Shaikh says the bigger challenge was to set up the building and actually convince parents to send their wards to school.

“Despite the abundance of water and natural resources here, the villagers, mostly uneducated, barely survived through paddy cultivation. The youth, which were mostly drop-outs would rather migrate to nearby cities to work for daily wages. Changing that outlook and bringing them to finish their education was a challenge,” says Shaikh.

Triggered by the challenges of his own life to acquire education, the school is his life’s work of making a difference to the world. “I was married off by my family when I was in Class 11. Barely managing a financial crunch, I finished my education and realised that it was teaching that could liberate both me and my students at the same time. Velvand gave me that opportunity because I want these children to get everything that I had to fight for,” he says.

In the pursuit of his students, he visited all the villages around here, some as far as 35 kilometres into the tribal area, knocking on each and every door.

However, getting adolescent girls to come to school was a bigger challenge. “There were a number of factors involved in the reluctance of parents. Firstly, it was the attitude that girls do not need education and then it was the lack of proper transport facility from the villages and adequate toilets schools,” shares Shaikh.

However, the structural problem of the school along with its facilities was solved with the help of Alfa Laval and Rotary club which donated over Rs 40 lakh to build an eight-room school with classrooms, laboratories and a library.

“Slowly we had almost 90 students from Class 8 to 10, studying at the school. However, last year, due to heavy rainfall, the road leading to the village was washed off and children could not come to school. They had been travelling by public buses from far-off villages,” informs Shaikh.

In order to remedy that, Alfa Laval recently provided a school bus, which travels six kilometres around the village and is soon to expand to over 30 kilometres.

The school, now with 56 students, comprising 16 girls and 40 boys, has been getting 100 per cent pass result in Class 10 for the past three years, with many students coming even from Pune. These students, some of whom were addicts and orphans, were taken in the by the school and were allowed to reside in the school hostel on campus.

Proudly speaking of their transformation, Shaikh adds, “Many of them were rejected by their previous schools either for lack of funds, or their repeated bad academic performance. But, what they need is not a bunch of teachers telling them what they cannot do, but what they can if they let go off their fears. All they need is a goal. Now, the same students did not just pass, but did considerably well in their academics.”

In addition to academics, the headmaster has also introduced a skill development programme within the curriculum, to teach basic tailoring to female students and many parents, providing them an alternative sustainable occupation.

With the help of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) support, he even hopes to start a graphic designing course for the students. “My dream is to make this school an example for all. Next year, I hope to get at least 100 students enrolled in the school,” says Shaikh.

First Published: Aug 26, 2018 18:56 IST

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