PRIYAMVADSA’S STORY OF CHARTING AN UNKNOWN PATH
“I had completed my graduation in Commerce and wanted to be a lecturer. But soon after, I was married into a joint family, where women weren’t supposed to work or have dreams of their own. For 12 years, I was caged with household work; tending to my ailing mother-in-law, taking care of my husband and children. I wanted to find my purpose. In 2004, when my daughter was born and I voiced my dream of giving her the best education, my mother-in-law questioned me. After all, girls grow up and get married, she said. So, where was the need? Few years later, when I had our younger son, the entire family celebrated; my mother-inlaw encouraged my husband to enrol him in a school, they deemed best. It was a no-brainer. He was the son, the future breadwinner. There was little I could do; I was living in a joint family of 15 and I would still feel lonely.
It was in 2012, when I joined computer classes and met Naveen, a young man who was recruiting for Sudiksha – a pre-school chain for the low-income population. As fate would like to have it, after 12 years of nurturing my dreams inside me, I started my career. I joined Sudiksha as a teacher. My family wasn’t very pleased. My mother-in-law would be unhappy if I left the household work and went to school and my husband put forth his conditions; I wasn’t allowed to leave the house before my children left for school and I had to be back by the time they returned.
I would have to continue doing all the household work I used to. So, I would start my day at 7 am, cooking for everyone and sleep after midnight, cleaning up the dishes after everyone’s meals. But, I persevered. Education was a dream, not just for me but for my parents too. So, when I started Sudiksha, I would go door to door, distributing our pamphlets, encouraging parents to send their children to my school. No one knew me around. Who was I? And, why should they send their children to me? Probably, it was the consequence of staying home for so many years.
FAILING AND RISING EVERYDAY
Finally, I started with 12 children. My biggest challenge was that parents wanted to see outcomes; they wanted to hear stories of what their children did in school and see their written work. So, I started gathering ideas. I would watch online tutorials on my phone, speak to my neighbours, my children and my family even. And then, I slowly started making their days fun and informative. For instance, if I was having the “Red Colour Day” in school, I would gather at least 50 things that were red in colour. We would celebrate all festivals, go out to the park to learn about flowers and trees. Each time, I would strive to give them an immersive experience. From the biggest challenges, come the biggest learnings; I learnt that no matter where you’re working, you must continually reinvent yourself. And for that, one should never stop learning. I’ve been following this every day, for the last six years.
It’s been six years and the challenges continue. But, so do the rewards. It hasn’t been easy; growing my Sudiksha centre from 12 to 90 children today. In my time here, I must have interacted with more than 400 parents! Each parent, each child teach me something new. And, I have to engage with them differently. I vividly remember, in the initial years, a child went missing from the school. I panicked and started searching for him everywhere. My husband joined me in my search but we couldn’t find him. We just couldn’t. Even now when I think of the incident, I shake deep within. Finally, we called his father who told us he’ll check with his wife and let us know. The child had gone home. I went up to the parents and apologised profusely and was convinced I won’t see the child the next day. But, much to my surprise, he was dropped at school by his parents and his mother just gave me an assuring smile.
We recently had a little girl join us. She was born in Malaysia and attended her pre-school there. But, something went wrong which we still are unaware of and she moved back with her mother here. Her mother warned her that she shouldn’t utter a word in the school; she shouldn’t talk to anyone or answer anyone. Or else, she would be scolded. That has stayed in her mind. For more than a month, she kept mum. We would pamper her, give her extra attention but nothing, worked. Then we found out, it was her mother. So, we started counselling her mother and now after almost 4 months, the little girl has started talking to her classmates. There’s still a lot more to be done. In another instance, my husband’s teacher enrolled her granddaughter here. She would go back and tell her grandmother everything that happened in school. Everything! The grandmother was so happy that she enrolled her grandson too. Today, nearly 50 percent of my students are siblings; there’s no gender bias here.
A FUTURE FOR MY DAUGHTER, ON HER OWN TERMS
I have changed so much. And, Sudiksha has been both; a reason and witness to that. My mother-in-law is still unhappy, but I have my husband’s support now. My children proudly say that their mother, Priyamvadsa, has taught more than 400 children! I’m respected in our neighbourhood; many parents enrol their children through referrals. But, the biggest change has been my independence. Earlier, when a cup would break, I would quickly hide the broken pieces. Today, I just walk up to the store and buy a new one. At Sudiksha too, I build my own rules. When my maid’s children wanted to join, I knew they wouldn’t be able to pay the entire annual fees upfront. So, I started a new rule; I let them pay me monthly and they haven’t failed me.
Earlier, when my daughter was getting enrolled in the school for the first time, I didn’t have a say as to which school she should go to. Today, she’s in college and her annual fees is nearly 3 lakh rupees. I pay for her. I don’t ask anyone. I don’t have to.
After all, education is fundamental. Right?”