By Manasi Nene
Just over a year back, the “Aajibainchi Shaala” was started by the Motiram Ganpat Dalal Charitable Trust, in Phangane Village, Thane District, Maharashtra. What’s that? “Aajibainchi Shaala” literally translates into “Grandmothers’ School” and it’s built especially for women who have never had the chance to go to school before this. It focuses on teaching reading, writing and basic arithmetic skills to the 27 women currently enrolled, who are residents of Phangane, 125 kilometres from Mumbai.
It was started as a social project by the Motiram Dalal Group who worked with local zilla parishad activist and teacher Yogendra Bangar to open the school on March 8th, 2016, which also happened to be Women’s Day. The only teacher is 30-year-old Shital More, who has a special connection to the school – her husband donated some land to the school, and her mother-in-law attends her classes as well.
The women, between the ages of 55 and 90, take care of their chores during the day – cooking, cleaning, tending to livestock – and attend school for two hours every afternoon, six days a week. All of them wear bright pink saris, because what’s a school without a uniform, right? Most women in the school were married off at a young age and have been taking care of their houses and families, and even signing their names is a big deal. Now, they can read and write Marathi, and also do basic calculations.
Using a routine that is generally used for children in kindergarten – rhymes, alphabets, painting – these women have also graduated to a schedule that involves unit tests and homework. In this tiny village with a grand population of 400, even children are happy to accompany their grandmothers to school, and the kind of support that Aajibainchi Shaala has received is “overwhelming”.
This isn’t the first such effort making waves – recently, Kerala was lauded for its efforts at achieving 100 percent literacy, and making sure that even its oldest residents had at least a primary education. However, these endeavours are still few and far between, in a country with 74 percent literacy, no effort is too small.