Janee Ashok Redekar wants to be a cop when she grows up. The 12-year-old can’t help admiring the policewomen she sees every day at her neighbourhood police station. “They can solve any problem, they are so brave,” Redekar says. But her two teachers, Vinaya Vidyadhar Shirdharkar and Geeta Rao Bugare, believe Redekar can do even better, that she will have different goals in another four years.
Redekar spends most of her day at her school, the NM Joshi Marg High School in Mumbai, where she is one of the oldest among more than 100 girls sponsored by Project Nanhi Kali, the education programme for underprivileged girls run by the KC Mahindra Education Trust. This is Redekar’s third year as a nanhi kali, which translates roughly as young bud.
This class V student’s enthusiasm for studies is obvious the first time I meet her after her academic support class. After normal school hours, she works on her weak areas, math and English, in this class. Math, Marathi and drawing are her favourites, she says.
Redekar’s school uniform is a neatly ironed and starched blue striped kurta, a white churidaar and a blue cotton dupatta. Every few minutes, she looks at her wristwatch; it has a big dial and a thick faux leather strap that covers her thin wrist. Redekar responds to every question with a smile, and thinks before she answers.
Around 15 years ago, her grandfather moved from Kolhapur, Maharashtra, to Mumbai in search of work. The family just about manages to survive in the city. Redekar’s father doesn’t have a permanent job. Maya, her mother, sells vegetables on a pavement near her school. She says the Nanhi Kali sponsorship was a dream come true for her family. “As a child, Janee was never interested in studies. When we first came here, she would just roam around all day with children from the chawl (area) where we live, and not attend school,” Maya says.
At the time, the family’s income was an average of Rs400-600 a month. The other two children—a son and another daughter—were also spending little time in school, with the parents away from home all day looking for work.
When the state government identified girls from this school for the Nanhi Kali programme, and informed the family that Redekar had been selected, they were thrilled, but Maya still did not expect her daughter to like going to school. “But in a few months she started spending more and more time in school, she would do her homework in the evenings, and she started developing other interests like dancing,” Maya recalls. Now, she says, her two other children, who go to the same school, too take their studies more seriously. “I was happy because I got a nice school bag,” Redekar says.
Her day usually begins early in the morning—she helps her mother with household chores. She is in school by 9am, and after regular classes until noon, she spends 1-2 hours at the academic support class. In the special class, students are divided into smaller groups, according to their competency levels. Teachers use visual tools, made by the field workers of Nanhi Kali, to make the learning experience more interesting.
The rest of Redekar’s day is spent practising dance or sports. “When I started school, I was very bad at remembering numbers. I was scared of math, but now I am doing much better. In the last exam, I got 17 out of 30,” she says.
Redekar qualified for a state scholarship through an exam this year—it tested her in math and language, and she was among three who got selected from her school in her age group. She is entitled to a yearly sum of Rs1,200 for her education.
Sheetal Mehta, executive director, Nanhi Kali, attributes a large part of the success of this programme—and the success of someone such as Redekar—to the teachers’ training programme in collaboration with Naandi Foundation. “Most of the teachers are from the same community and neighbourhood. We choose educated people for training students in the academic support class from similar social and economic backgrounds. They can speak to the girls in the language that they understand, and it is also an avenue for employment for educated people.”
Redekar often tries to teach her mother what she learns at school. Most days, for about a couple of hours after she finishes school, she sits next to her mother on the pavement where they sell vegetables. Amid the bustle of traffic, pedestrians, vendors and shops, she can be seen going through the day’s lessons.
“I can’t imagine this is the same Janee. Now I have hopes that she can join the police one day. I don’t want her to grow up and just get married and look after her family like I do,” says Maya.
Nanhi Kali, Mumbai
Nanhi Kali is an education programme for girls studying in government-run schools in 14 cities and towns across seven states. In collaboration with the state governments, girls are chosen for this programme on the basis of the family’s economic status. Funded and managed by Anand Mahindra, of the Mahindra Group, and the KC Mahindra Education Trust, Nanhi Kali is implemented in schools by the Naandi Foundation, a charity organization working for the improvement of health and education infrastructure. If you choose to sponsor a girl’s education, you will receive a profile of the girl and her parents, their living environment and her photograph. Sponsors also receive a progress report every six months.
Rs5,000 For This Charity Can
• Help educate two girls studying in classes VIII-X for a year
• Rs5,400 can educate three girls in classes I-VII for a year. This includes tuition fees, academic support classes, two sets of uniforms, a pair of shoes, notebooks, stationery and a school bag
If You Want To Volunteer
Nanhi Kali has no volunteer options whereby you can sign up to teach or mentor the girls. But it accepts volunteers from corporate houses. Companies that want to contribute money and allow their employees to volunteer can visit the Nanhi Kali website