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  Volunteer Tales >> Keshav Gore Smarak Trust (KGST)

Keshav Gore Smarak Trust (KGST)

Visit by Nitin Sawhney on January 5th, 1999

[ Word Document -- Images from the site ]

I was referred to KGST site by Sivaram Tumma when I had inquired about AID projects in Mumbai; Sivaram coordinates AID efforts at Virginia Tech, Blacksburg. The project had proposed continued funding for the running of 6 Balwadis (kindergartens) in the slum areas of Goregaon. They had reviewed and apparently approved the project proposal sent by the Trust. On their last visit they had been unable to see the Balwadis, so they asked me to visit the site and see if they were running as stated in their proposal and review their concerns.

The Trust is an NGO founded in Goregaon (20 years ago) by Smt. Mrinal Gore, a social and political activist in Mumbai. The objective of the trust was to help provide literacy, skills, healthcare, welfare and community services to residents in the slum areas of Goregaon. The Balwadis were started to encourage parents to send their children to school and make them aware of new methods of learning.

I arrived at the Goregaon station and was met by one of their volunteers who took me to their main building, a short walk from the station. The volunteer seemed quite driven and said he had served with Mr. Nevrekar for a long time. Mr. Nevrekar who previously served as an elected official in the municipality seems like quite a well-respected figure in the area. I was initially surprised to find a fairly large building that housed the trust. Later I saw how well the space was being utilized for their various services. The place seemed well organized. As I walked in, there were several patients waiting for a physician and dentist. They took me to a small office where I met Mr. Nevrekar, the managing trustee and Prabhu, another trustee. Prabhu had received Ravi (another AID volunteer) on his last visit there. I was received respectfully and they all took time out to talk in-depth with me.

The KGST itself has well developed facilities - a diagnostic center, dental clinic, child development clinic, computer training, reading room, library, yoga classes, and even a domestic counseling center. For the computer training center, 5 PCs were donated by the Maharashtra foundation in the US and for the clinics, equipment was donated by the State Bank of India. They had old 386 PCs and said they could only teach the basics … wanted 486s and some teaching aids. The computer instructed seemed competent, however he did not have previous teaching experience. For their clinics they got physicians to come visit once a day for an hour or so. I spoke to Dr. Sudha Shenoy, the dental surgeon there .. she seemed very competent. She graduated from Poona, the same as my sister. Dr. Shenpy has been working there for nearly 7 years; a dedicated young woman. The center also provided yoga and accu-pressure classes at no charge. The library was stocked with social sciences books, some donated. The reading room was full of students when I came by and they also showed me around their counseling center.

Nevrekar gave me some sense of the history of the Balwadi's project. It was initiated in 1993 by Sunanda Borade, a teacher in a secondary school, who now serves as a volunteer with KGST. Initially there was only one Balwadi in the area run by a woman in her home for 16 years. Sunanda saw her work and wanted to expand such services to others in the slums with the help of the trust. A teacher training course at the trust was established, and recognized by the SNDT university in Mumbai. Five new Balwadis were created and a supervisor (a woman from the community) assigned to running them. Each Balwadi was physically located in the slum area; the space was usually a pre-existing community center or temple. Only in one slum (Teen Dongri) was a new building being created.

Most teachers (female, ages 20-22) were recruited from the slum areas itself. They usually had a 10 or 12-std education and were then provided a 1 year course at the trust. All teachers recruited have stayed with the trust. Children taught were Junior KG (3-3.5 years) and senior KG (4-5 years). The parents are charged a nominal fee of Rs.10 on a monthly basis.

I was driven to see the first Balwadi at Teen Dongri in the morning (escorted by Mr. Nevrekar, Prabhu, and Sunanda). This one was housed in a separate but small building with a teacher and helper. There were about 35-40 children, some in uniform. They all seemed surprisingly well behaved (and rather adorable). They were going thorough a lesson on shapes and colors by singing. It seemed like all lessons were taught that way - song, dance and play was an essential part of their teaching style ... since they felt they could not start with alphabets for kids of that age. The kids seemed shy at first, but when asked by the teacher to sing a routine, they did so promptly and with real enthusiasm. The kids were provided some instructional toys and charts (however the toys had to be locked in cabinets after school). I talked to the teachers about their satisfaction with the facilities and teaching aids. I also asked about their interaction with parents. They said parents took a real keen interest.

Twice a month, the children were treated to home cooked meals by the teachers. I was fortunate to come on the day that all Balwadis were providing food .. they asked me to taste. I have to admit it was rather good. The kids were asked to bring chapati and bhaji from home. It was suggested by Nevrekar that to maintain nutrition they would like to provide home cooked meals to the kids on a daily basis and also have a yearly checkup by a physician. They were concerned about vitamin A deficiency in some kids. They mentioned a case where one of the kids, from the government school they adopted, nearly lost his eye-sight due to it … he had stopped coming to school but one of their volunteers found him. They managed to get him appropriate medication in time. A health and nutrition program would be a useful area for future funding. I have asked them to make a concise proposal to us regarding that. A consistent program must be devised and appropriate follow-up should be provided by physicians to malnourished children. They themselves suggested the need for follow-up; seems to me that they can organize it well, it more a question of getting resources (physicians and medicines).

I visited all 6 slums in one day, and I found a consistent pattern in all … friendly and competent teachers who took a real keen interest in the children. The kids were always enthusiastic and surprised me with their talents every time. The most memorable child was a 4 year old girl that danced very well … only later did I notice one of her feet was twisted … but that handicap didn't stop her. The Sahakar Wadi and Hanuman Tekadi slums both had the Balwadis running in small temples, which seemed like an appropriate and central place for the children (usually had good facilities). I did go to the original Vitbhattim slum, run by the one teacher (she was 55) for 16 years … it was in her home, a very small room that barely fit 15 children. She had one old helper and her husband also helped out. Finally I also saw one of the most improvised Balwadis in the low-caste area (Dalits) in Indira Nagar … here they didn't even have running water or sanitation facilities and the parents seemed hard to convince to keep their kids in the school. The kids were not as clean and parents would not send them on time. I was told that the Dalits didn't take much interest in their child's study. They could hardly even afford the Rs. 10 fee. However the Balwadi still seemed to manage quite well. The teachers and helpers are quite hard working despite being pressed for resources.

We had lunch back at the trust - typical Marathi food … rather delicious … I spent time talking to them about their goals with the Balwadis and other programs. They did not want to create new Balwadis without having sufficient resources; they also didn't want to exploit the teachers with low pay. At the moment they pay fairly well relative to current standards - Rs. 500 per month plus a one month Diwali Bonus, which still sounds low to me. With the Rs. 10 fee charged for each child, they recognize that they cannot make the Balwadis self-sufficient by any means, so they have to provide support throughout. They fear that expanding to more Balwadis would be a strain on their resources and would be hard to sustain without guaranteed funding from outside sources. They also mentioned the new welfare center they are building in Goregaon. They said that a proposal for additional funding for that center was submitted to AID-Blacksburg, but they had not heard back anything regarding that. I decided to visit the building myself, as they were keen to discuss it with me.

After lunch we drove to the construction site. They have been allotted a plot of land in the Teen Dongri slum, which has a population of nearly 50,000 slum dwellers. So a welfare center there seems essential. The construction is nearing completion - they estimate 3-6 months. Its setup quite similar to their current trust building, with space allocated for counseling, computer training, and clinical facilities. They have already managed to raise 25 lakhs of the 35 needed. They need another 10 lakhs for furnishing and buying additional equipment. I suggested to them to parcel out the needed funds into smaller proposals for specific programs or centers. We could then review how those could be supported within AID India's various chapters. Overall given their current work and experience, its fair to say that they have a credible organization that would support the operation of the new welfare center quite well.

Action Items

Make sure they have been provided the requested funding for their original proposal of running the six Balwadis. They are still awaiting response from Ravi. Their operational year begins April 1st … so we should ensure that there is good follow up regarding that proposal.

We should consider how the Balwadis funding can be continued or sustained for the next 3-5 years. Perhaps by sharing the responsibility with other AIDs chapters.

We can help them initiate two new programs in the Balwadis - Daily Nutrition and Health checkups. The cost for the nutrition program would be around Rs. 2000 per month for each Balwadi. That is based on a daily expense of Rs. 100 or so … they feel they can manage with that amount. They ensure that they teachers will make the food themselves according to the guidelines they have learned in their training course … perhaps the trust can establish more consistent guidelines for a daily nutrition program. So for a 10 month period that's Rs. 20,000 per Balwadi. We have to assess how such funds can be provided to them. Again it's important to make sure we can sustain the funding for some time.

Similarly for the Health checkup program, where they ask a physician to come one or twice a year to each Balwadi must be initiated in a proper manner. Follow-up is important and they need money for medicines and things like Vitamins and so on. They didn't provide any budget estimates to me regarding that. Lets request them to give us details prior to any approval.

Review their proposal for funding of the welfare center. Request them to send smaller proposals for specific programs within it.

Their computer facility (both existing and new one) requires appropriate PCs and hardware/software for adequate training. If we can find sponsors to donate used 486 PCs to them (either in the U.S. or India) that would be very helpful. We could tap into our contacts in computer firms where we can and propose such ideas to them.

I feel that KGST represents a credible organization that can serve as a good role model for others, where we wish to help initiate similar programs. Its good to support their work, not only to help their slum communities but also provide a working model for NGOs in other slum areas to consider. I hope that we can create a long lasting relationship with this trust and have other volunteers also visit them frequently.

Nitin Sawhney, AID-Boston

Jan 16, 1999.