The Optimist Citizen

A Professor who begged in the local trains of Mumbai for 5 years to build schools for the impoverished by promoting Vidya Daan

As a Kid, Sandeep saw maids in his neighbourhood slogging hard for a day’s meal, while their children sat helplessly and never went to school. His mother, a teacher, was helping these kids with their studies. Her dedication made a strong impact on little Sandeep. Decades later, he made this mission of spreading education, the mission of his life by running English medium schools in villages, which doesn’t charge any kind of fees from its students.

The little boy is now in his fifties and is better known as Professor Sandeep Desai. Primarily a marine engineer, Professor Desai is was also teaching in a premier B-school and divides his time between his hometown Mumbai, a tiny village around 1000 km away called Umarkhed in Yavatmal district of Maharashtra and three other villages in Rajasthan.

Between managing the schools and ensuring the welfare of all the students, he also shoulders the task of raising the funds that are needed to run the five schools run by his organization Shloka Missionaries.

“I saw the grave differences in the educational standards in our country. The level of education in a private school in the city and a government school in a village is different enough to be considered in two separate worlds. I wanted to give every child a level playing field. I realized that one necessity for this was to make English-medium schools accessible and available in our villages,” said Professor Desai.

The bigger tragedy, according to him, is our failure to explain the kids and their parents how education can be empowering. “We figured if the element of financial burden was removed, more parents would send their children to a better school,” he said. And this was the principle that led to the formation of Shloka Missionaries in 2001.

With his corporate and academic background, people may think that raising funds for his pet project would have been a breezy task. However, he approached 200 letters to corporates and did not get even one response. “That made me think of where these companies got there money from? I thought I must also directly approach the common people. And in Mumbai, a train is the only public place where people give you attention,” he said.

Thus, Professor Desai started raising funds for constructing these schools by “begging” on Mumbai’s local trains. Every day, he valiantly conquered mounds of crowds in the trains to promote the notion of VIDYA DAAN. However, the task seems insurmountable. People insulted him, called him names and dictated him as phoney. Very few truly believed and trusted that this man would go and build a school for slum kids. It took him five years of train journeys to be able to make the first school run by the Mission in Goregaon. With some acknowledgement of his work and the internet revolution, he is now raising the funds on platforms like Crowdera.

Prof. Sandeep Desai asking for vidya daan in a local train in Mumbai

The school was accessible to kids from several slums nearby. The task did not end here, it had only just begun. The daily expenses of the school and funds for supplies required by the students were yet to come. This meant that the daily train excursions would continue for Professor Desai even after the school building had been funded.

The school had to be closed in 2009 after the passage of RTE. All the students were placed in private schools by the volunteers of the organization. Then, they decided to focus on areas with no schools at all. That’s how their attention turned to Umarkhed which is infamous for high suicide rates among farmers, which was made worse due to the famine that year.

The team had to face many difficulties, starting with not getting the right teachers for the job. The volunteers trained some of the villagers to the best of their abilities. Then, the parents were not convinced how it will help to have the kids educated when the family was struggling to survive. Naturally, then, the dropout rates of the school have been high. “We had to go to every house and talk to the parents about how a good education could help the kids secure a better future. Still they were not convinced. We didn’t want to replicate the mid-day meal scheme but we may have to provide some nutritious snack,” said Professor Desai.

You can support Professor Desai for his cause here

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