Amar Shrirang Pol, now 34, was raised in the slums of the Industrial Estate in Marketyard, Gultekdi in Pune. A mother who worked as a maid and a father who drove an auto-rickshaw, Amar got a vicious taste of poverty right from his childhood. Working hard, he studied in the Sant Namdeo Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) School and it was then, that he got a true picture on the wondrous impact that education can have.
He began volunteering for the Rashtriya Saksharta Abhiyan and started educating the illiterate women in his neighbourhood. The Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) acknowledged his efforts and asked him to take responsibility for the entire Gultekdi ward. The ward had around 1500 adult illiterate women. Realizing that the work needed a bigger force of volunteers, he began the “Each One Teach One” campaign through which 450 high school students, coming from different slums, helped in achieving the target within a year.
It was the work with these 450 students that the showed the innumerable imposing barrier to students keen for education. After continuous dialogues with the PMC, Amar successfully acquired permission to utilize classrooms Sant Namdeo Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) School, the school were Amar started his journey, and started his organization “Bal Shikshan Manch” in 1998 at the age of 17.
The primary vision of Bal Shikshan Manch was to satisfy the basic educational needs of the children living in the slums around Gultekdi and it has constantly strived with determination to achieve this vision in its 16 years of journey.
A usual day at Bal Shikshan Manch starts after 4.00pm in the evening, once the students have finished with their daily school commitments. 100 students, brimming with an undeterred enthusiasm, fill the two classrooms every day and participate in the activities. The classes start with the revision of school work of the students, then moves onto art, discussion of current affairs, regular screenings of films on important issues, mentor sessions and physical activities. Also, various courses for beautician training and nursing are conducted to help girls liberate from various orthodox pressures. Amar has also collaborated with colleges over the city to either waive off the students’ fees or let them be paid in instalments for those coming from difficult surroundings.
In the past 18 years, Amar and Bal Shikshan Manch has helped and worked with more than 1000 children and has helped decrease the rate of addiction in the slums by more than 50%. But, amidst all the flurry of statistics, it is the success stories that touch lives the most. Preeti, a girl whose father worked as a daily wage labour, has now completed her Social Work Degree form Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Another girl, Mrunal, recently won a scholarship to the United World College of South East Asia, Singapore.
But Amar feels that even after a work of 18 years and with thousands of children, his work is just beginning. He feels that “it is when every individual understands the value of education for all that is when I can truly believe that I have succeeded.
KSHITIJA CHAVAN | TOC
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