Slumdog Millionaire and Traffic Signal are films that probably gave us a peek into child begging. A glaring reality of India that hits you at the corner of your street, or at every signal. The morose faces that beg for alms, often make you give in a few bucks making you apprehensive of whether you are actually helping them. But, there are two college students who explain how it’s the biggest mistake to give them money. Diksha Dinde and Mrinmayee Kolape are beacons of hope for these street kids for whom books are replaced with begging bowls. These college going students have been doing serious humanitarian work with Roshni Foundation and strongly believe that education plays a vital role in eliminating child rights issues.
Mrinmayee Kolape who is pursuing her Masters in Social Work was recently appointed as the Ambassador of Hope by The Universal Ambassadors. “I would often work in Deccan and see a large number of kids begging. I started tracking them and found out that the children would be sent out in groups to different parts of the city to beg at signals. Instead of being in corporation schools where all their names are put on paper, their parents send them to Chaturshrungi or FC road.” Diksha who has done immense work with underprivileged children while pursuing her masters in History, is the Global Youth Ambassador of an organisation supported by United Nations. Contributing to society has always been her goal, “I am physically challenged due to which I did not get many opportunities. I want to make sure no one is in a state where they cannot avail of something better. ” With this in mind, Dinde and Kolape started the Green Signal School on November 7. The school is a joint initiative by the Roshni Foundation and Ajit Foundation.
Green Signal School had its name coined by this duo who explained in unison, “The kids go to beg when the red signal comes on, but when will they get the green signal for education? Also, both of us wanted to work towards empowering children and this gave us a green signal for our project too.” A large stretch of land with a river flowing alongside, sounds like a perfect playground for children. Instead the land is polluted and cattle and makeshift homes are peppered all over, but where ‘there is a will there is a way’. After securing permission from the Pune Municipal Corporation, Kolape and Dinde started the school under Z bridge. “We wanted to make sure we get as many kids as possible and an effective way was to start the school close to where they stay. So we got a blackboard fixed and got mats for them to sit,” explains Kolape.
Despite a survey which revealed that there were 88 children who resided along this stretch, the school saw only eight to ten children in attendance. This did not deter the duo and the volunteers who work all days of the week. Throwing light on some of the reasons why parents do not send their kids, Dinde says, “ Most often, the parents of these children are drunk through the day. By sending their children to beg, they earn almost 2,000 rupees or more as a family. Also, they believe that it is pointless going to school so why will they not send their kids to beg?” Most of them are from the Pardhi tribe and get their daughters married as soon as they turn 13, according to Dinde.
Trying to change the situation of street children through education, the two social changers focus on activity based learning. “Since we have kids of various age groups, we have started with story telling and teaching them the basics. We also concentrate on inculcating healthy and hygienic habits in them,” says Kolape. In order to complete the process, they plan on making sure each and every child gets enrolled in municipal schools and completes their education. Their initiative has received immense support from people all over Pune. One can easily volunteer at the school anytime between 4-6 pm. “We have received calls from people asking us how they can start something similar in their area and that makes us really happy,” smiles Dinde.
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