“Change is the result of all true learning.” – Leo Buscaglia
The story of Saranya, a grade 8 student at Worli Naka Hindi Medium School in Mumbai, exemplifies this quote.
Long ago, Saranya’s family migrated from Salem, Tamil Nadu, to Mumbai in search of better prospects. Her father, a school dropout, lost his ability to speak and hear at some point in time. A contractual job as a municipal sanitation worker helped him earn just enough to provide for his family. It also made his children eligible for free education in municipal schools.
However, as both parents had to be away for work, Saranya and her brother Ranjit lacked the motivation to study. Their academic futures seemed hopeless. Besides, Ranjit was also reluctant to shoulder responsibilities at home. This situation would have continued uninterrupted if the resource persons from the Gyan Shakti Program had not noticed Saranya at school.
Run by the municipal corporation of Mumbai, Worli Naka School caters to children from low-income communities. It offers instruction in six different Indian languages in multiple shifts from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Gyan Shakti Program works to strengthen the learning environment in this school, with spoken English and digital literacy sessions for students and professional development activities for teachers. This education intervention is implemented by Learning Links Foundation with support from Hinduja Foundation.
When Gyan Shakti Program began paying attention to Saranya, she displayed a keenness to learn. She also discussed her family’s situation with them. Over the next few months, the members from Gyan Shakti Program tried very hard to cultivate both siblings’ interests in academics. However, just when they seemed to be succeeding — at least with Saranya — the COVID-19 outbreak disrupted education across the world.
Schools started to conduct online classes, but many children could not participate due to a lack of digital devices or an unsuitable environment at home. Saranya’s family moved back to their native place in Salem. The young girl lost touch with her school and seemed at risk of permanently falling off the learning grid.
When all seemed lost, a glimmer of hope shone through the darkness. Saranya herself contacted Gyan Shakti members and conveyed her desire to continue learning. At her request, they communicated with her family. Through counselling sessions, they ensured that Saranya’s parents fully grasped the importance of education. The members also motivated Ranjit to take a greater interest in his studies.
When schools resumed offline classes after a few months, the family relocated to Worli and Saranya returned to her school. She took up her studies with the same enthusiasm and passion as before. Her brother was still unenthusiastic, but Gyan Shakti persisted in trying to convince him.
Finally, Ranjit also enrolled at a night school, while pursuing a day job to help his family. Both parents became more invested in their children’s careers, and a favorable environment for learning was created at home. Saranya and Ranjit’s mother even called the Gyan Shakti members to thank them for bringing positive changes to her children’s lives.
Saranya seems as eager as ever to get a good education and support her family. According to Gyan Shakti, she is driven and has the resolve to pursue her goals. This is remarkable for a girl of her age. It makes her one of the rising stars of the Gyan Shakti Program.
Children like Saranya are the new generation that can lead India to a brighter future; one where people will be judged on their merit and not their backgrounds.