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Retired teachers educate poor tribal children whose parents lost their jobs during the pandemic

Maharashtra: Retired teachers educate poor tribal children whose parents lost their jobs during the pandemic

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Even though the COVID-19 pandemic has left Gond tribes in Aurangabad district, Maharashtra jobless, their children have learned to read and write during the difficult phase, all thanks to a group of teachers at the retirement. 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, launched by a group of professionals including doctors and teachers.

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.

Ujwala Nikalje, who retired as headmistress of a school here, said these children were initially unfamiliar with the basic activities carried out in a school and could not even stand in line.

“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.

BB Chavan, assistant director of education in Nashik, who was previously stationed in Aurangabad, said the project is a good initiative to bring these tribal children into the mainstream by understanding their needs and backgrounds. “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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