Maha: Retired teachers educate poor tribal kids whose parents lost jobs in pandemic

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic left Gond tribals in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad district jobless, their children learnt to read and write during the challenging phase, all thanks to a group of retired teachers. Despite the initial language barrier, more than 50 of these tribal children are now not only able to read and write as part of the ‘Make Them Smile’ project, started by a group of professionals including doctors and teachers.
The children are now also participating in sports activities as well as taking care of personal hygiene and discipline, the project members told PTI.
An education department official said the project is a good initiative to bring these adivasi (tribal) kids into the mainstream and to identify their qualities and groom them accordingly.
The Gond tribals have been living in a settlement in Maliwada area, located near Devgiri fort in Aurangabad, since a couple of decades.
The settlement comprises nearly 150 people, who used to sustain their livelihood through the traditional business of selling roots and herbs of trees.
When the business failed, many of them decided to work as labourers. But, they became jobless during the pandemic, said Dr Shreerang Deshpande, a local ophthalmologist working for the project.
“We used to serve food packets during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and reached Maliwada. These tribals were so honest that they refused the ration and food packets as they had got it a few days back,” he said.
Deshpande said they also came to know that the children of these tribals, who were enrolled in schools, could not even read and write and did not understand Marathi.
“We deputed three retired teachers working with us to teach these kids twice a week in their locality itself,” he said.
Ujwala Nikalje, who retired as headmistress of a school here, said these children were initially unfamiliar with the basic activities done in a school and they could not even stand in a line.
“We had to work on their basics, right from teaching them self hygiene. It took two months to bring them closer to books,” she said.
A girl enrolled in Class 6 could not even read. But, the teachers helped her, she said.
“Now they can understand Marathi and we can teach them well,” Nikalje said.
Lata Musale, another retired teacher who worked on the project, said language was a barrier while communicating with the children.
“They were attracted to the food packets which we gave them. We made a good bonding with that and then gradually introduced books and writing material to the children,” she said.
“After teaching them for about an hour, we let them indulge in other creative activities. Some of them can play kho kho and volleyball now. We have also made playgrounds for them,” she added.
B B Chavan, deputy director of education in Nashik, who was earlier posted in Aurangabad, said the project is a good initiative to bring these tribal children into the mainstream by understanding their needs and background.
“Under the initiative, not only these kids are being educated, but their qualities are being identified and they are groomed accordingly,” he said.

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