Ajepur is a tribal village in Nandurbar district. A majority of the villagers are from the Konkani Adivasi community, and are farmers or farm labourers. This is the story of how the village community raised almost Rs 2,75,000 for the local school.
The ZP school in Ajepur has classes only up to the 4th std. When Gavit ‘Sir’ joined the school in 2005, it had barely 42 students. Today that number has gone up to 72! Gavit ‘Sir’’s mother tongue too is Kokani Adivasi, which made it easier for him to communicate with the students.
He used this advantage to get students interested in learning. As they began to engage more deeply with their studies, he decided to work towards improving the school’s infrastructure. There were, for instance, no benches for the students. And Gavit ‘Sir’ realised that when these students went to the nearby high school for further studies, they had to sit on the benches there. Being unused to benches, they were awkward and uncomfortable. Gavit ‘Sir’ went to the villagers with a proposal to acquire benches for the school. He himself contributed Rs 10,000 for the project, and the villagers reciprocated by donating another Rs 30,000. Soon the school had good quality, sturdy benches for its students.
The villagers responded in a similar way when the school needed plates and bowls to serve the midday meals. Given that most parents and guardians worked as farm labourers, and since the school provided midday meals, most students did not bring any food from home. Neither did they carry empty lunch boxes or plates. Some students would go home in the recess period, to get a plate off which to eat. But for many, their homes would be locked, as the adults would be out working. This often meant that not every student was able to eat, as the school did not possess enough utensils either. ‘Sir’ explained the situation to the students’ families and, once again, some of the relatively well-to-do ones got together and gifted the school 50 utensil sets, each with a plate, a bowl, and a glass.
In 2015, the school became digital. To facilitate this, Gavit ‘Sir’ and Head Master Desale ‘Sir’ tried a new approach while seeking help from the community. They downloaded interactive software related to the school curriculum and held demonstrations for the school management committee and at parents’ meetings. In this way, they convinced parents and guardians that this method of learning was more effective than learning by rote, or only through textbooks. And they explained how, in the changing, digital world, students stood to benefit from an acquaintance with this new technology. The students’ families and the management committee together worked to raise some Rs 1,50,000 for a computer and a projector for the school.
Although these funds were enough to digitalise one classroom, it left out students in the other class. The school has only two teachers, and they teach two classes simultaneously. Turning to the parents and guardians once again, the teachers pointed out this problem. The village council stepped forward and promised to get funds under the PESA (Panchayat Raj Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act. Soon, they were able to procure Rs 2,00,000 for the school. With this sum, the school not only managed to digitalise the other classroom, but also purchased six tabs for the students.
As with several other schools across the state of Maharashtra, this school too suffers from power outages. To overcome this problem, the school has installed solar panels and has also purchased an inverter. This ensures that the school can continue to function even during a power outage. Just as the village community has helped by giving plates and bowls, both teachers have, between them, personally spent some Rs 15,000 to repair and paint the school building.
A special feature of this school is its kitchen garden, growing local seasonal vegetables. Many vegetable varieties that grow in the Nandurbar region are considered to be nutritious and to have medicinal value. Teachers and students plant vegetables such as “chitrak” and “Thang” in the garden. The students bring the seedlings from their own backyards. During the rainy season, these plants are included in the meals cooked for the students. At other times of the year, vegetables like tomatoes, spinach, coriander, carrots, and so on, are grown in the school’s kitchen garden.
The teachers often help the students and their guardians in various ways, as most of the village community is not well off. Some work as farm labourers, others do a variety of odd jobs. Many people from the village travel to work in Gujarat state, across the village border. The parents of Dhavlya and his sister Parvati worked in a rice mill in Gujarat, and the two children would often accompany their parents, missing school in the process. Finally, the two schoolteachers intervened, persuading the parents to leave the children behind and promising to look after them. So the next time their parents had to leave, Dhavlya and Parvati stayed back with their grandparents. During this time, both teachers indeed took on the additional responsibility of ensuring that the children got their school uniforms and notebooks. Later, Dhivlya and Parvati went to a government boarding school.
Over the years, both teachers have built and maintained channels of communication with the villagers. They have sought to understand local problems, and lent a helping hand wherever possible. In the process, they have shown by example what two-way community participation can accomplish.
Blog: Snehal Bansode-Sheludkar
Photos: Ashok Desale, Principal, ZP school Ajepur
Translation & editing: samata.shiksha team