It was in February 2016 that our school, ZP Upper Primary School, Mohgaon-Tilli, had arranged a picnic trip to Nagpur’s ‘Fun and Food Park.’ The students were excitedly looking forward to their first trip to an amusement park. Actually we, the teachers, were hoping to hire a bus so we might all travel together from our district, Gondia, to Nagpur city. But ours is a tiny village and not many parents could afford to send their children for the picnic. Eventually, there were not enough students to fill a bus, and so we had to travel in separate cars. Despite their small number the children remained enthusiastic, and immensely enjoyed all the rides, including the artificial waves, and the various games. They also dragged us teachers to sit in the rides with them, refusing to stop until till they were quite exhausted.
We sang and told stories as we travelled to and from Nagpur, which made our journeys fun as well. All in all, it was such an enjoyable picnic that nobody could stop talking about it, even a week after our return. One day, I sat in the 6th standard classroom chatting with the students about the different rides and games, the food that we’d tasted, and other such things. Those who had been for the picnic spoke excitedly, while those who had missed it listened wide-eyed. Suddenly I said, “We teachers also enjoyed it a lot, along with all of you! Wouldn’t it be fun to go to that ‘Food and Fun Park’ every year?” The students all clapped, welcoming the idea. As I looked around I noticed that Neha too was clapping along with the rest, but at the same time there were tears running down her face!
“What happened, Neha? Why are you crying?” I asked. But Neha wouldn’t say anything. Her friends too tried to find out what the matter was. I patted her on her head and asked her once again, “What is it? Don’t cry, Neha! Talk to us.” I gave her some water to drink. Finally she said, “Sir, I wanted to come for the picnic too. All of you seem to have enjoyed it so much and I would have too, had I come. But I could not get the money from home.” Neha started sobbing once again. I felt sad too. I comforted her, saying, “Don’t worry, I promise you will come for the picnic next year, and you’ll have fun with all your friends!” I made up my mind not to refer to the picnic again for at least a week. All those who had not been able to go with their friends, because their families could not afford it, must surely be feeling similarly upset, I thought.
Neha’s parents had separated the previous year, and her mother had left Neha in the care of her maternal uncle, a daily wage earner, here in Mohgaon-Tilli. Neha attended school regularly, and seemed to like being in school and with her friends. Although neither her mother nor her uncle could bear the extra cost of an outing, it was only natural for a girl of Neha’s age to want to try new delicacies and have a good time with her friends. Yet children from poor families are often denied these small pleasures. I wouldn’t blame the parents, who are barely able to make ends meet: some might be farm labourers; others might work at a brick kiln. Spending 400-500 rupees at a go for a picnic is obviously beyond their means.
I kept thinking about Neha and her situation for the next couple of days. I was convinced that being happy was very important for a healthy childhood, and that irrespective of family finances, all children should be able to go on an outing like the school picnic. Finally I broached the topic once again in class. “Do you think that all students should be able to come for a picnic? I think they should. Whether they have the money or not, they should not be deprived of this pleasure. What do all of you think?” I asked. They shouted out in unison, “Yes, we want all our friends to come for the picnic.” Some students spoke to me of how sad they were after seeing Neha cry. It was agreed that everyone should be able to go the next year. But the big question was, “How to do this?”
Once again I turned to the students and sure enough, it was they who came up with a solution. “What if we start saving for it, a year in advance?” It was a very good suggestion, but they could not think where they could get the money to save! So I came up with an idea. I said, “Let us start a ‘picnic fund’. Don’t you get some amount at least a couple of times every month to eat out? The street food that you buy with that money is anyway unhealthy. Then why don’t we save that money and put it into this fund? Also, guests usually give 25-30 rupees to the children of the house when they leave. So let’s begin putting all these amounts into this picnic fund. That way, next year, all the students will be able to come for the picnic.” The children agreed at once, and resolved to build up the fund.
From March 2016 onwards, we started collecting for the ‘picnic fund’. I had given strict instructions to the students not to demand any pocket money especially for this, and made it clear that there was no compulsion to contribute. Only the money they were given for buying snacks and so on was to be added to the fund. The students started adding 5-10 rupees with great sincerity whenever they received such sums. I started a separate accounts ledger, in which I would jot down the contributors’ names and amounts, along with the date of deposit. We bought a small plastic box for the money and wrote ‘Picnic Fund’ on it in coloured ink.
The parents too supported this venture, as it was far easier for them to give 10-20 rupees now and then, rather than shelling out a large sum at one go. The children stopped eating street food, which helped them to stay healthy, and the new project helped them learn the importance of saving.
This project is already a year old and as of by February 2017 we have collected 13 thousand rupees in our picnic fund!. Neha too has contributed nearly 400 rupees! Neha and her friends are now in the 7th std. Her mother and father are together again. Although their village is close to Mohgaon-Tilli, Neha prefers to stay on with her uncle as she does not want to leave this school.
I am glad that we teachers have been able to keep our promise to Neha. This year, all 35 students of std 7th came for the trip to
Maitri Park at Bhilai in Chattisgarh. The children enjopyed the lush green garden, toy train and the musical fountain. They were excited to see peacocks, deer and other animals in the zoo.
We are also proud that most of the expenses were done from the amount collected for the picnic. A couple of students could not save as much, in such cases, the teachers got together and paid their contribution. Our principal, Mr Waghmare and others too helped us. The joyful faces and sparkling eyes of students like Neha and others. who had never been to a picnic before, is more precious to me than any reward. I am glad that none of the students from std 7th missed the picnic this year.
Blog: Ashok Chepte, Graduate Teacher, ZP Central Upper Primary School, Mohgaon-Tilli, Taluka Goregaon, District Gondia.
Translation and Editing: samata.shiksha team