The government of India wants you to believe that India is shining, that we are poised to become a superpower soon. But beyond all the brouhaha surrounding India’s rise, as citizens we do know and we can clearly see the glaring dark spots in the image of India that is being sold to us. We all know what ails this country; that at the grassroots there are still plenty a problem to be solved. But its not just the government, we too are to blame for the malaise our society finds itself in, like someone has said, “Knowing what to do and still not doing it, is the biggest crime”. Discovering Mumbai is proud to feature a Mumbaikar working to bring about a change at the grass root level by educating children from underprivileged sections. That Mumbaikar is Himani Sanghvi, a Teach For India Fellow (TFI).
|Himani (Right) with her students|
Himani, a resident of Lower Parel, comes from a normal Marwari family. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Media and used to be a journalist till a few years ago. It was while working for Hindustan Times, two years ago, that she started developing resentment towards writing. “I felt very uncomfortable to write, it almost terrified me”, says Himani. It was a phase when she was struggling to find her true calling.Himani picked up a teaching assignment with a reputed school in Goregaon. It was an instant connect; she realized that being with kids and teaching them was what she really enjoyed. But teaching at an IB school was not what life intended her to do.
On the request of her friend, she ended up going to a TEDx India event where she chanced upon a TFI fellow’s lecture. She was blown away by the speech. Intrigued by what she had heard, she decided that she wanted to know more and got in touch with the fellow. She was invited over to a school in Dharavi to experience what the fellow’s at TFI do. She fell in love with the work and immediately decided to apply for a fellowship. Himani vividly remembers the moment when she had received an acceptance mail from TFI, “I was screaming at the wall. It was a dream come true.” Her parents, however, did not share the same excitement and wondered why she wanted to work in school in a slum. Still, they did not stop her from joining TFI.
The school where Himani teaches is right in the middle of a slum in Sewri. She has been teaching a class of 42 for one and half years now. TFI ties up with government schools and fellows are expected to fill in the gaps at these schools.It was not love at first sight though. When she arrived at the school on the first day, her class was sitting in 5th grade classroom even though they were all in 4th grade. Also the school was under renovation, which meant that there was a lot of construction happening which was creating a lot of noise. The kids too were initially a little cold towards her. Some were wondering why they had got a new teacher, while some were scared that she too would beat them like the previous one! She was a novelty for them giving high fives and playing games with them.
She knew it would be an uphill task. On the first day she realized that even though her kids were all belonging to 4th grade, academically they were at the level of Kindergarten, a glaring gap of almost 5 years! Her entire first year went in foundation work like teaching the basics, making the kids read a bit etc. “Now almost 70% of the kids are at 2nd grade level, rest are still at Sr. KG or reaching first grade level”, says Himani.
From history and geography to mathematics and languages, Himani teaches everything to her class. “Most of the kids are good in mathematics but they are very annoying in languages”, says Himani.This year she is focussing on pushing her kids to 5th grade level, “I feel the gap is widening, so I really want to focus on pushing them”. She is also focussing on her role of change agent and is working to transform the school. She has started a small library in school and now she plans to start a computer center at the school. Himani has started fundraising for the same, which so far is going good. The computer center will also be used to teach the resident teachers of the school to upgrade their knowledge and skills too.
Himani likes to invite people to her classroom to see for themselves the reality of our education institutes. You can also visit the school if you just want to spend some time with the kids or for career workshops to give some guidance to the kids. The kids from her school are not exposed to the outside world a lot and so they are always eager to meet people and learn about new things. One thing she wants to change is this myth that we all carry about parents forcing their kids to drop out of school to work. “None of the parents have ever asked their kids to bunk school for work. They are very clear that education is the only way they can get out of poverty.” says Himani. She makes it a point to regularly meet the parents of her students.
The experience has had a significant impact on the way Himani looks at the world. “I was very short tempered before Teach For India and would get bothered by a lot of things”, says Himani. All that has changed now, if she feels that there is something which bothers her and is within her capacity then she will go out and do it, if not then she will just move on. She no longer looks down on anyone; neither does she let all the good work get to her head. Her work has received a lot of appreciation and was recently featured in the Blackberry Action campaign. “I feel I was meant for this”, says Himani about her work. She would love to continue teaching and post her fellowship with TFI she intends to take a bus to a remote village, most probably in Kashmir, and run a school over there. We wish her dreams come true. Mumbaikars, they never cease to amaze us!
To learn more about Teach For India, you can visit their website - here