Published: 10th August 2021
Despite no electricity in her slum, this Mumbai girl ensures children there get the education they deserve
There are days when people of these slums, who are in close proximity to the city's infamous Milan Subway which is known to flood every year, see the worst as water seeps into their shanties
Even as several states have announced the re-opening of schools, the threat of another lockdown due to an exponential surge in COVID cases lingers in the background. But there are a group of children in Mumbai's Bhajiwadi slums near the Santacruz Railway Station who will continue their education, with or without schools re-opening and without electricity in the area for sure, thanks to Vanita Harjina, their neighbourhood volunteer teacher.
"They call it illegal structures so there's no electricity here. We use car batteries to power bulbs," says the 25-year-old. According to Vanita, there are at least 20 houses in the area, but this is a rough estimate. She teaches children in the slums at the nearby railway tracks under an open sky. The authorities do not know about it. "I used to teach Hindi and Marathi to children from Class I to VI for a nearby NGO. They used to pay me `3,000 a month," she says. Then, the first lockdown hit and all of it stopped. "Many children here do not have smartphones to continue their education. One of them asked me last year if I could teach him, " she says. And that's where it all began.
Going above and beyond
What started with one child has turned into a toli of about 15 children. "While I teach Hindi and Marathi, I sometimes ask a friend to help out with other subjects, especially English," says Vanita and adds that her friend studied in an English-medium school. All these children study in the nearby Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation school. "Their teachers know that I take their classes. They have added me to their class WhatsApp groups too. In fact, it's the study materials that they send on the groups that I teach the children," she states.
There are days when people of these slums, who are in close proximity to the city's infamous Milan Subway which is known to flood every year, see the worst as water seeps into their shanties. And this is when everything comes to a halt in the area. "When it starts raining, I take classes in my house instead of the railway station. But if it rains a lot, even my house gets flooded and then the teaching stops."
Vanita's students crossing railway tracks to attend their classes
Pinning her hopes on them
Reshma (28) tells us that her parents arrived in Mumbai when they were younger than her. But she grew up in the slums so never got a glimpse of school education. But she has enrolled her two little ones in school now. Her children were part of the classes Vanita took at the NGO and when that stopped, she sent them to Vanita as soon as she found out that her classes are on. For many like Reshma, individual smartphones for their children is a luxury they cannot afford. "Rains are a problem, there is already no electricity here for my children to study. We all use car batteries. I charge my phone at work," she says. When asked if she'll send her children to Vanita once the schools resume, she says, "Of course!" without skipping a beat.
Who is Vanita beyond this?
Now a BA first-year student at SNDT Women's University, Vanita's childhood was a cyclone of hardship. "My father helped me study with a candle at home. He made sure I finished my schooling," she says. Sadly, her father passed away a couple of months ago. Her education was paused for a while, but she wrote her Class XII exams last year. "I started teaching children at this NGO and they helped me finish my Class XII and secure an admission at SNDT," she says. But then COVID hit and since then, studying has been a harder battle for this teacher. Here's hoping she gets to do what she's helping these kids do — learn.