Dada Chi Shala: An Uplifting Tale of a 22-Year-Old’s Initiative of Educating Children Who Live On the Streets
Action — one word that holds infinite power. People often talk about change but only few have the courage to put their words into action. This story is to celebrate and honor those who exemplify the power of action.
Abhijeet Pokharnikar, a 22-year-old social worker who hails from Pune, Maharashtra is the mind and soul behind Dada Chi Shala, an initiative that brings education free of cost to children who live on the streets. Abhijeet launched Dada Chi Shala, which means “your elder brother's school”, soon after the lockdown restrictions were eased in 2020. An initiative that began with teaching a small number of children now educates 500 homeless children across India.
However, the journey hasn't been easy; he faced countless roadblocks along the way and recalls one of the days when he felt heartbroken. “It was my first day. Wearing a nice formal attire I visited a judge at his house, asking for permission to use a footpath for teaching. He asked me to leave without listening to what I had to say, assuming I was a salesman”, he said. Within two months, the same judge's daughter joined forces with Abhijeet as a volunteer. A moment of pride indeed!
When times were rough, apart from his unceasing enthusiasm, his friends' constant support helped Abhijeet get through every challenge. “Dada Chi Shala wouldn't be a reality without my friends”, he quotes. The co-founders and his friends, Shubham and Vaibhav, actively pool funds to educate children. The three of them work as interns and invest the money earned into their noble initiative. Donations and gifts are great help too.
Talking about what drove Abhijeet towards social work, he says, “I grew up with stories of social workers, of great leaders and their initiatives for the society narrated by my mom. My family's financial condition wasn't good. I had to stand outside of class for not being able to pay the fee on time and there were other such instances. These experiences have also motivated me to be a social worker and especially be an educationalist,” he adds.
The turning point in Abhijeet's life was meeting Dr. Sindhutai Sapkal. He expresses his sincere gratitude and says, “If I hadn't met Maai, then I wouldn't have been where I'm right now.” One of the happiest moments for Abhijeet was making his father proud. “My mother supported me from the start, but my father was hesitant. He wanted me to prepare for the UPSC examination. On the day when my interview was telecasted on Doordarshan, our village Sarpanch invited all residents to watch it together on a big LED screen. That day I earned my father’s trust, and it was a happy day for him and I”, he shares.
Determined to bring about change, Abhijeet is thrilled to launch another social initiative. “We have started an initiative called Youth in Social Work to involve the youth and spread awareness about the struggles of those who don’t come from privilege,” he adds. Abhijeet believes volunteer engagement is one of the most important factors that determine the success of any initiative. He feels fortunate to have joined forces with over 250 volunteers and is grateful for their support and selfless service. He encourages the youth to volunteer and says, “It is our responsibility to give to the society we live in. So, give time to the people. Spare two hours a day. It's possible! Remember, one man can't do everything, but together anything is possible.”
Abhijeet's vision is to set up an educational institution for kids who live on the streets. He aims to bring to them quality education that is free of cost. Giving for Good Foundation applauds Abhijeet's relentless efforts, and all those young enthusiasts associated with Dada Chi Shala. Undoubtedly, this story exemplifies the power of action. Like Abhijeet said - Together, anything is possible.
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Puja Das