The children now also participate in sports activities and maintain personal hygiene and discipline, 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 to identify their qualities and prepare them accordingly.
The Gond tribes have been living in a settlement in the Maliwada region, located near Devgiri Fort in Aurangabad, for a few decades. The village comprises nearly 150 people, who made a living from the traditional trade of selling tree roots and herbs.
When the business failed, many of them decided to work as laborers. But, they became jobless during the pandemic, said Dr Shreerang Deshpande, a local eye doctor 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 received them 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 and write and did not understand Marathi.
“We have delegated three retired teachers working with us to teach these children twice a week in their own locality,” he said.
“We had to work on their basics, right from teaching them self-hygiene. It took two months to bring them closer to the books,” she said.
A girl enrolled in class 6 could not even read. But, the teachers helped her, she says. “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 when communicating with children.
“They were attracted by the food packets we gave them. We made a good connection with that and then gradually introduced books and writing materials for children,” she said.
“After teaching them for about an hour, we let them do other creative activities. Some of them can now play kho kho and volleyball. We also set up playgrounds for them” , she added.