“Vidya daan, shrestha daan” a booming voice announces as the 13:15 Churchgate fast rolls out of Mumbai Central. Commuters look around to find a man dressed in formals walking across the first class compartment. He introduces himself as Professor Sandeep Desai, Founder Trustee of the Shloka Missionaries. His mission – to run free English medium schools in rural India. He talks about the schools he has set up and displays laminated newspaper articles talking about his noble work, and then invites commuters to donate towards the cause of education.
A few commuters immediately slip in notes of varying denominations into the transparent donation box, that the professor is holding. He bows down and thanks each one with utmost gratitude, irrespective of the amounts they donate. Others look on blankly or go back to playing Angry Birds on their smartphones. If you are a daily commuter on the local, there is a good chance you have witnessed the above scene. I had had a brief chat with him earlier but yesterday, I spoke to him in detail.
Mumbai Locals, The Perfect Outreach Platform
A Marine Engineer by profession and a qualified MBA graduate, Desai now 52, quit the corporate life to pursue teaching management students. After having taught at reputed B-schools such as the S P Jain Institute of Management, he now devotes his full time towards Shloka Missionaries. Amazed at this unique way of garnering support for the cause of educating the rural children, I ask him why he chose the Mumbai Locals. He smiles and says, initially when he started off on this mission, he wrote to over 200 corporate companies asking for donations from their Corporate Social Responsibility fund but he didn’t receive a single reply. After a few frustrating days, he decided to approach the people who contribute to the funds of these companies – the consumers who buy the products and the shares! But if he went to their houses, from door to door, they wouldn’t listen to him. So, the next best option was to be present on the trains as it provided him a ‘captive audience’ as he puts it.
Changing Lives One Rupee At A Time
He has collected over Rs 20 lacks and the commuters of the railways will be proud to know that this fund is helping educate children across 4 villages including one in Vidarbha region of Maharashtra (one of the most backward regions of the state). The fifth school is coming up in Rajasthan. Winner of the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award and numerous other accolades, his energy levels belie his age. He travels the length and breadth of the Western Railway and occasionally also travels on the Central line.
I ask him if he ever faced any trouble from the authorities and he says, the Railways officials did object at first but after realizing that his commitment was genuine and dedication pure to the cause, they turned into his friends. He dedicates the CNN IBN award to the Railways. Apprehensive passengers do bombard him with suspicion filled queries but the Professor is undeterred by them.
When a commuter asks him about opening schools within the city, the Professor reminds him of the Right to Education Act’10 and the following Supreme Court judgement compelling all private schools to reserve 25% of their seats for underprivileged kids for free of cost as is the provision in the RTE Act of 2010. Large educational institutions or even the Government aside, it is only when ordinary people like Desai break conventions, do the extraordinary and take matters into their own hands – does a ray of hope shine, not just for the children in the villages of our country, but for India too.
Be The Change
When asked about opportunities to volunteer and teach with him, he invites me to visit one of the schools and says interested folks should write to him. The website of Shloka Missionaries lists in detail how one can volunteer to become a ‘Shloka Vidya Sevak’. As the train nears Churchgate station, he confesses that he seems in a hurry because he wants to catch the simple lunch provided at the Western Railway canteen which is modestly priced at ₹15, served only until 13:30 pm everyday!
Interested donors and volunteers may contact Professor Sandeep Desai on 9322757030 or email him on email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Courtesy: Sushant Yattam
Video Courtesy: CNN IBN