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A journey back to school

CLC Sanjay Nagar: Showing the way

The Sanjay Nagar slum of Govandi West found an unusual hero in Gulab Hussain Ansari (known as Gulab bhai) when he started the Children’s Learning Centre (CLC), in July 2018. Gulab bhai is neither a politician nor a seasoned activist; he’s a simple tailor at Film city; whose one-bedroom home in the slums of Sanjay Nagar became a learning centre for 70 marginalized children in the area, between the age of 5 – 15.

Sanjay Nagar is one of those neighbourhoods of Mumbai with more than its fair share of social issues. A stark contrast to the glitzy life of Mumbai, life in Sanjay Nagar is a daily struggle for its residents made worse by its location right next to the dumping grounds. Marred by poor infrastructure, lack of education and apathy of society, the community is stuck in a vicious circle of poverty. Gulab bhai took it upon himself to address the plight of the street kids of Sanjay Nagar who couldn’t afford to continue school, given their socio- economic conditions. Even the local municipal schools had closed their doors on these kids. His vision stemmed from the fact that the dire condition of his neighbourhood is a direct result of the poor quality of education or a lack thereof.

The Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan (GBGBA) has been actively helping the locals at Sanjay Nagar fight for basic amenities like water and sanitation. The GBGBA took notice of Gulab bhai’s efforts and was moved by his efforts to help the school dropouts get back into school. These young school dropouts had no option but to join their family’s profession for a meagre income to support their families. Gulab bhai’s efforts, at his homegrown learning institute, got a new lease of life when the GBGBA took up the challenge to help these underprivileged kids.

The GBGBA touch

The main task was to ensure that these kids got back into the school system and had a sustainable model of education. Gulab bhai’s long term association with GBGBA went back to Sanjay Nagar’s fight for housing rights, which pushed him to reach out to the organization. Teamed with a group of TISS students, volunteering at GBGBA, CLC divided the 70 students as per their age groups and allotted separate time schedules for each group. Fueled by the children’s enthusiasm, the learnings at CLC picked the pace and garnered a great deal of support from the public.

Parents’ perspective

The efforts at CLC would not have been successful if not for the parents of these kids. The first ever PTA meeting at CLC, held on Oct 13, 2019, focused on educating the parents on the vision of CLC and to make them understand how crucial it is for their children to stay in school. The parents’ feedback was astounding, as they opened up about the negligence faced by their kids at public school and the alienation that made their children drop out of school. But their faith in the power of learning was restored by CLC’s efforts and they promised to make their kid’s education a priority.  

The outcome

Many students, who had earlier dropped out due to the ill-treatment at the hands of the school authority, have been admitted back into the school. The schools not just opened their doors but also, welcomed the children in a dignified manner. The initial reluctance of the school authorities, that had baffled the volunteers, was now converted into an empathetic and optimistic acceptance. The best feedback came from the children who poured out their hearts when they spoke of the newly found joy and opportunities, that made them feel belonged and loved.

Due to the consistent efforts of the program, the struggles of these street kids were no longer perceived as an isolated problem but a gaping hole in the fabric of society. The initiative soon became a community affair, binding them together for a collective cause to eradicate the educational divide.

Children of CLC, Sanjay Nagar drawing on the theme of children’s rights on International Child Rights Day (20 November 2018)

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