Guiding lives: How a Mumbai woman set up street schools to groom poor kids

A man teaching poor kids in a street school of Pechaan Live Foundation
When Afsana Parveen, a former merchandiser with a retail company, read about the Delhi gang-rape case in 2012, it shook her to the core, especially when she read that one of the perpetrators was a juvenile. She says she kept on thinking what drove these people to commit such a crime. “I kept asking myself, are we next,” Afsana says.

Searching for answers, she came to the conclusion that if children can be guided through their formative years, rates of crimes such as rape can be expected to come down. She says it is not just the lack of education among the underprivileged that results in some turning into criminals, but what they need is counselling and constant guidance, even outside school. “Children are extremely impressionable. They need a nurturing environment to grow up. Their hands need to be held and they need to be taught the difference between right and wrong,” she says.

So, she decided to quit her job to work in the direction. To begin with, she started working with Delhi-based NGOs to help educate children in the remote areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

In 2014, she set up Pehchaan Live Foundation, the first initiative of which was Pehchaan Street School in Navi Mumbai. "Through Pehchaan Street School we aimed to teach and guide kids living in makeshift shanties under Ghansoli flyover. The idea is to build educational care centres and make up for the lack of positive reinforcement in their lives," Afsana says.

The street school now mentors over 2,000 children in 11 branches in Bihar’s Munger district and Delhi, apart from Mumbai.

Afsana adds at home, these children often do not get the ideal atmosphere during their growing-up years. “They grow up seeing their mothers being beaten up and often have to help their families make ends meet. For them, education is not a priority. At Pehchaan, our attempts revolve around monitoring them, making sure that they attend school, help them realise their self-worth and nurture them like small saplings," says Afsana who, along with her team, also helped an orphaned four-year-old get admission at a Mumbai boarding school.

But, Pehchaan's six-year journey hasn't always been smooth. Afsana points out the apathy of the local civic bodies: "The government has schemes like Beti Bachao, Beti Padhaao, but not much of these ideas are replicated on the ground. The local authorities mostly do not help organisations like us who are trying to bring a change on the ground. Like there are no lights under Ghansoli flyover and the functioning of street school gets disrupted whenever there is a demolition drive. Even after repeated requests and trips to the local civic body office, there are no lights.” Similarly, in Munger, Pehchaan team wanted to arrange for transportation for kids from villages afar. Afsana says their request fell on deaf ears.

But the administrative apathy never held Pehchaan foundation back.

In Munger and Delhi units, Pehchaan Street School even started computer classes.

Besides, Pehchaan’s Munger school trains under-19 girls in football. Afsana says initially, the idea was more of building their confidence and engaging them in a positively reinforcing activity, but we saw they developed an interest in the sport. “The team was good at it. They participated in an under-19 girls’ football tournament, which was organised by the United Nations in 2018. They did not have proper shoes. An overnight crowdfunding was pulled off for buying the shoes for the girls. They battled more odds, like facing discrimination from other teams, but the girls won the tournament.”

“The team participates in state- and district-level tournaments and they have been performing well consistently. If they keep playing well, these girls may even get government jobs and that may help them bring out their families from the throes of poverty,” Afsana hopes.

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