The beginning...

One day, in July 2008, a young man was on his way to work when he saw some kids, children of local rag-pickers and daily-wage laborers, near the Sector 19 bus-stop at Airoli. On a whim, he started a conversation with the kids. He was curious about whether the children had had any form of schooling. A random conversation developed into a determined pursuit and soon he was speaking to kids and their guardians on schooling in general, often turning up at their slums after work to chat them up. That is when he came upon Ashok, aged 25, preparing for his Class X English paper. A school dropout Ashok had decided to complete his education. That was probably the spark that lit the flame that became LEAD. If a road-digger could choose to go back to books, so could others. And since “catch ‘em young” is the mantra of the century, it made sense to inculcate a similar desire for learning among younger kids so that they could grow up with more options for independence instead of digging roads under a sweltering Mumbai sun.

Armed with this desire, LEAD started off. This guy - the first volunteer of LEAD - inspired a few friends and they, in turn, passed the word around. At first, we believed our desire to help would suffice. So, we set about convincing parents for the need for their children to be educated and then we spoke to schools, discovered that affidavits would be needed in the absence of birth certificates, and set about getting these made. Between August 15 and September 20, we admitted 28 children to adjacent schools and experienced a sense of accomplishment, which was short-lived. A few days later, the school called us up to tell us that some children were not attending class and that the number of these children was gradually decreasing.That is when we realized our job was far from done.

We realized that the children we had worked so hard to enroll in schools often received little support to continue their schooling. Their illiterate parents and that too after the day-long laborious work, were also unable to offer adequate guidance and in schoolrooms packed to capacity, teachers had no opportunity to devote personal attention to individuals. We started weekend classes for the children to infuse them with an enthusiasm for schooling and discovered that weekends were not enough because it still meant five unsupervised days. Since we couldn’t leave our regular jobs, which were paying for affidavits and other such needs, we turned to colleges to seek the help of student volunteers. When we had enough volunteers, we realized we needed to coordinate their schedules such that each would be able to spend 2-3 hours every week with the children and we needed some teacher training so the students could help their charges and screened motivational videos to inculcate a spirit of leadership & team-work among our young volunteers.

Marathon of Hope:

Battle at Kruger:

Then, we had to deal with where this extra-curricular gathering would take place. A hut with a thatched roof would mean that Mumbai’s weather would play spoilsport, so we approached individuals and organizations for help. When we secured place to conduct classes, we realized our volunteers were diminishing. Vacation internships and exams and lack of proper coordination were taking their toll.

Today, LEAD has more than 40 students enrolled & most importantly retained in the school and more than 50 volunteers working with us and we have leased one premise. We celebrate all popular festivals and conduct regular picnics and trips for the children. In June 2011, we will be enrolling another 10-12 children in schools around Airoli. All the money we have spent to date has come from our pockets & our circle of influence. We never imagined that a desire to help a few children would become a tiny yet immensely satisfying movement for change. Each day with LEAD is a struggle with fresh challenges but we are not daunted, because each day, one of our children gives us a reason to smile! You can be a part of this growing movement too. To find out how, check out…

“The world is too dangerous to live in – not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit and let it happen.”