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Drishti Bodhraj Premprakashi

JWB Blogger

Signal Shala Is Providing Education To Beggars’ Kids In Thane

  • JWB Post
  •  September 8, 2016


While many of us get to go to school and receive an education, children on roadsides have to earn a living for their families, mostly through begging.

Keeping this in mind, Bhatu Sawant, the CEO of Samarth Bharat Vyaspeeth (SBV) an NGO started Signal Shala, a school for children who beg on the streets close to the Teen Haat signal flyover in Thane, Maharashtra.

Teen Haat Naka happens to be the busiest signal in Maharashtra, connecting a total of 32 roads. The traffic covered signal is also home to several of pavement dwellers who find it very hard to make a living. Most of these pavement dwellers are often accompanied by toddlers and babies–a common sight in all Indian metros.

In an interview with HuffPost India, Sawant said, “The parents sell stuff and do their business during rush hour. But you know what they do the rest of the time? They send their kids to beg. That is the side business. Although, I have to tell you that making them beg is mostly the fathers’ doing. These tiny kids earn 70 to 80 rupees per day and the father spends most of it on alcohol. The mother has control over the remaining money since she runs the family.”

The organisation first tried to get the children into a school. They didn’t succeed, and the few made it, soon dropped out. Meanwhile, the Thane Municipal Corporation was trying to think of a plan to improve these children’s condition. SBV conducted surveys and found out that there were 22 children living on the street permanently.

And so, SBV and the municipal corporation came together to help these kids

“The parents do not allow the kids to move away from the signals. So, we decided that if the kids cannot go to school, then the school must come to them. We, then, got a shipping container and started showing films to kids and made them play games. They liked it and came back. Gradually we introduced the alphabet to them. After that, we got a projector and software that allows audio-visual classes. The kids really began to enjoy it.”

Signal Shala has 22 students as of now, from ages 4 to 14. Signal Shala, which is now a registered school and plans to educate the kids till the 10th grade.

At first, the classes took place from 11 am to 1 pm. “It was difficult for them to hold attention for any longer,” said Sawant. After a few days, the timings were stretched to 2 pm. Three months later, the school now runs till 4 in the evening. However, soon after their schooling began, Sawant noticed that the children could not stay awake during the classes. He mentioned that they also had skin infections. SBV then got a child specialist who provided the kids with vitamins and a skin ointment.

Clothing was the next problem. Sawant saw that the clothes were thrown away on the day the children showered. “They don’t even have water to take a bath, how will they wash clothes? So they throw them away,” says Sawant.

Sawant and his team want to appeal to the people who would donate clothes to these kids in the signals. “We provided the children with water, made them take showers before school and gave them new clothes. We cut their hair and nails and even washed their old clothes and let them out to dry,” he said.

He confessed that some of the kids still go and beg. However, now the other children inform the teachers if they see someone begging.

They are also trying to bring in other children from the close by signals to join in.

But, Sawant hopes to shut down the school soon which will happen when the children can go to a proper school. “We need to close the school. I want this to wrap up fast. A society where a signal school exists is one that has let its people down. We, as a society cannot be proud of a signal school. Don’t be proud of it. We should be ashamed that this is even a thing. Our aim is that there should be no signal school in India in the future.”

You can donate for this school and its kids here and read the full interview here.

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