#FirstStoryPositive: A 21-year-old, who ensures 120 poor kids don’t miss out on school amid lockdown

The 21-year old Abhijeet Pokharnikar, who is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Computer Application from Pune teaches more than 100 unprivileged children.

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We all talk about the right to education and believe everybody should get an opportunity to go to school. However, many of us avoid helping and turn a blind eye to the children of street dwellers who are often seen wandering in the streets and begging at traffic signals.

At a time where people only tweet about bringing change to the situation, Abhijeet Pokharnikar, a social worker took a different approach and initiated the change.

The 21-year old Pokharnikar, who is pursuing his Bachelor’s in Computer Application from Pune teaches more than 100 unprivileged children. Since 2018, Abhijeet Pokharnikar has worked with Sindhutai Sapkal, a social worker who is well-known for her work in raising orphaned children.

“While working for the cause, I learned about the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDG) and one of its goals was providing education to the underprivileged,” said Abhijeet.

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic hit and India went under lockdown. Later in July 2020, as the covid restrictions eased, he and his two college friends reached out to the children of brick kiln employees to ensure they don’t miss out on school and started teaching them.

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The activity has expanded into 'Dada Chi Shala', which means "elder brother's school," and now educates 120 underprivileged children. These children belong to the Banjara tribe which is a nomadic community of sex workers, garage labourers, brick kiln workers.

“Dada chi Shala’ has now spread across the areas of Saras Baug, Chhatrapati Shivaji Nagar, Market Yard, Tilekar Nagar, Vishrantwadi, Pirangut and Kudal in Sindhudurg district, Pune.

“We started with teaching a handful of students in the Deccan area, and with the passing days, we realized the conditions were more distressing than we imagined. There were not many NGOs or social groups attending to their educational needs,” told Abhijeet.

Also, many students were forced to drop out of school as study during pandemic needs smartphone and internet connection. Abhijeet says that “Many communities also do not possess adequate documents like birth certificates, Aadhar cards or finances to access mainstream education for their children.”

Witnessing the situation, Abhijeet decided to address the education needs of these kids.

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“The UNSDGs emphasize providing education to the underprivileged children, and I thought of addressing the issue. In December, around 60 volunteers conducted a city-wide survey to identify 4,727 children falling in the category or deprived of education.”

He further told that a plan was created to teach children in their own localities. “We began teaching children between 9 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. We wanted them to be fluent in languages along with learning school syllabus of main subjects like Mathematics and science.”

Snehal Bhosale, an IT professional joined hands with Abhijeet in October 2020 and teaches children in the Vishrantwadi area.

A class 6 student, Sanjana Lad, tells that her study was discontinued as she couldn’t attend online classes because she didn’t have a smartphone. She told “My parents work as laborers and we are poor. But didi has helped me with my academics. My younger brother and sister also attend classes because of her good teaching skills.”

After a year, the Shala has around 107 active volunteers who teach children. They are also trying to organize the necessary documents for children to enter mainstream education, as well as providing school books to the children.

Abhijeet states that he aims to ensure that all underprivileged students in Pune have a formal education, however, his ultimate goal is to provide these kids with free education without the need for any documents.