Maha: Retired teachers teach poor tribal children whose parents lost their jobs during a pandemic

Even when the COVID-19 pandemic left Gond tribes in Maharashtra’s Aurangabad unemployed in the neighborhood, their children learned 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 unable to read and write on their own as part of the ‘Make Them Smile’ project started by a group of professionals including doctors and teachers.
The children now also participate in sports activities and ensure 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) children into the mainstream and identify their qualities and care for them accordingly.
The Gond tribes living for several decades in a settlement in the Maliwada area, near the Devgiri fort in Aurangabad.
The settlement consists of almost 150 people, who used to earn their livelihood through the traditional trade in roots and herbs from trees.
When the company went bankrupt, many of them decided to work as labourers. But they became unemployed during the pandemic, said Dr Shreerang Deshpande, a local ophthalmologist who worked for the project.
“We served food parcels during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and reached Maliwada. These tribes were so honest that they refused the rations and food parcels they had been given a few days ago,” he said.
Deshpande said they also learned that the children of these tribes, who were enrolled in schools, could not even read, write and understand Marathi.
“We’ve delegated three retired teachers to work with us to teach these kids twice a week in their place,” he said.
Ujwala Nikalje, who retired as headmistress of a school here, said that these children were initially unfamiliar with the basic activities of a school and that they could not even stand in line.
“We had to work on their foundation, from teaching them self-hygiene. It took two months to get them closer to books,” she said.
A girl in grade 6 couldn’t 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 working on the project, said language was a barrier when communicating with the children.
“They were attracted to the food parcels we gave them. We developed a good relationship with them and gradually introduced books and writing utensils to the children,” she said.
“After teaching for about an hour, we let them do other creative activities. Some of them can now play kho kho and volleyball. We also made playgrounds for them,” she added.
BB Chavan, deputy director of education in Nashik, who was previously 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 are these children educated, but their qualities are identified and they are cared for accordingly,” he said.

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