By Hrishikesh Baviskar*
Jotiba Phule said, “True Education signifies empowering others and leaving the world behind a little better than the one we found.” Following his example, a group of students established Junoon Foundation, an NGO in Wada village of Palghar, in 2013.
Wada village in Palghar district is home to the Katkari, Malhar Koli, and Warli tribes. These three tribes, classified amongst the primitive tribes, together form nearly 70% of the population in the area. 29% of the households of the district are registered as Below the Poverty Line.
“As students, we faced several challenges due to lack of resources and facilities, and access to education was very difficult for many of us. We wanted to help the next generation so that they wouldn’t have to face some of the obstacles that we did,” states Onkar Gharat, a leading member of Junoon Foundation.
Spreading Happiness and Prosperity in society through Education, Social Awareness, and Sustainable Development:
Apart from the school curriculum, Junoon focuses on imparting life skills and soft skills, providing career guidance, and encouraging the love of arts and sports among children in Wada village. The volunteers try to spread awareness regarding good health, hygiene, social responsibilities, tolerance, and unity through workshops for children and their parents. In addition, they also try to push the village children and people towards environmental well-being, sustainable agriculture, energy savings, conservation of natural resources, and other ecological measures.
Junoon started its journey in April 2013. The first program, a tree plantation drive, was organized in June 2013, and the “Go Green” initiative has become an annual event ever since. Over the years, Junoon has tried to touch as many lives as possible. In the months of Monsoon leading to winter, educational workshops were conducted in two schools from Wada and Bhiwandi taluka under its flagship program, “Ummid.”
Before COVID, Ummid was running successfully in a residential school called Gunj Ashram Shala in Wada taluka. Junoon volunteers, mostly college students, used to visit the Ashram Shala every weekend to conduct lectures, teach computer skills, sports, hygiene, etc. Junoon has also started a book bank at the school to inculcate the habit of reading among children. “Saptarang” is a day-long annual event of fun, interactive workshops on art, craft, science, and more. Apart from that, Junoon also conducts career counseling sessions for 10th and 12th standard students in association with SNDT college professors and students.
Another important annual flagship event is a week-long donation drive, “Daan Utsav,” wherein Junoon receives over 3000 notebooks, stationaries for kids, and need-based equipment for schools like a dictionary, sports kits through online crowd fundraising. The volunteers coordinate and distribute them among thousands of students across 17 schools in Wada village. Talking about the impact of Daan Utsav, Onkar said, “People from the village have to travel over seven kilometers to buy notebooks, and it is usually out of their financial reach to buy them frequently.” This donation can make a big difference for students who yearn to learn.
Tackling the challenges in the pandemic:
According to a five-state survey conducted by Oxfam India, the majority of rural households and tribal families do not have digital devices and access to the digital medium of education. More than 80% of the parents with children studying in government schools reported that education was “not delivered” during the lockdown.
In this challenging situation, the key is to keep children engaged in basic educational activities and ensure that they retain familiarity with the basic concepts. The community volunteers from Wada taluka and surrounding areas have come forward to fulfill this exact goal. They have started classes for students in makeshift classrooms with whatever resources they have. Children have also shown immense enthusiasm in attending these lectures.
Junoon has extended a helping hand to these dedicated teachers and their students who are showing immense hunger for education despite adverse circumstances by providing stationery to the classes being run in Budhavali, Kati, Pali (Jhugare Pada) in Wada taluka, and two blocks in Veti-Varoti in Dahanu taluka.
To help kids get on board with education again, Junoon has helped distribute eight tabs to Zilla Parishad School Budhavali. The volunteers are also ideating with the schoolteachers of the village to devise new methods to teach the students.
Junoon has raised funds to provide relief for families affected by COVID, Nisarg Cyclone, and Mahad floods. The help provided ranges from ration kits to slabs and sheets to reconstruct houses of the affected families.
It was heartening to hear Onkar and other volunteers talking passionately about helping with the cause of Junoon and giving back to society. Despite having busy work schedules, most of the founding members take time out to oversee the functioning of Junoon. What started as a volunteering initiative by 4-5 college students has become a network of more than 50 dedicated volunteers. The volunteers also talk about how interacting with the children has helped enhance their interpersonal skills and boosted their self-confidence. The various initiatives of Junoon reflect Dr. Ambedkar’s idea of education, which is to moralize and socialize the people.
“It is education which is the right weapon to cut the social slavery, and it is education which will enlighten the downtrodden masses to come up and gain social status, economic betterment, and political freedom.” — Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar
Oxfam India. (2020). Status Report- Government and private schools during COVID-19. Www.Oxfamindia.Org. https://www.oxfamindia.org/knowledgehub/oxfaminaction/status-report-government-and-private-schools-during-covid-19
Menon, S., & Krishnamurthy, R. (2017). Key Findings of a Study of Literacy Acquisition in Kannada and Marathi (2013–2016). Https://Www.Tatatrusts.Org/. https://www.tatatrusts.org/article/inside/literacy-research-in-indian-languages
*Second Year Student of the Post Graduate Programme in Management at IIM Ahmedabad. Based on interview with Onkar Gharat (Junoon Foundation)