Ma’am, I want to become a teacher just like you when I grow up.”
I felt so happy when a little girl from my class walked up to me and said this. I knew she was too young to mean it, but nonetheless it was the biggest compliment I had ever received. When I was growing up, I had never thought I could become a teacher, let alone becoming someone’s role model.
Till the age of six I had not even been to school. There was no school in our village. The few children who did go to school had to travel kilometers on foot, making their way through dense forests to reach the nearest school. The number of girls enrolled in the school was even more negligible. Most parents never considered school necessary for their daughters, and others were discouraged by the long and unsafe journey.
But my parents were determined that I should not grow up illiterate like them – they wanted their children to be able to read and write. They were agricultural labourers and worked hard to earn daily wages that were barely enough to provide two times food to the family.
Despite this, my mother enrolled me in the distant school. She would use her lunch break to drop me off to school. I do not remember how many days she did not eat her lunch just to make sure that I would not be late for school. In the evening baba would pick me up after a tiring day at work. While I waited for baba to come, I would revise my lessons and finish my homework. This is how I completed my schooling.
When I got admission to college, my parents spent a whole year’s savings to buy me a few clothes and belongings that I would need to live in the city. After getting my degree, I started teaching in a primary school in the Burdwan city. One day maa called to tell me that a free school had opened in the village, but there was a shortage of teachers as there were hardly any educated people. Most of my peers who had got a chance to go to school were settled in cities like I was. I kept thinking about it for days and finally decided to leave my job and returned back to my village.
It has been six years since then, and I have not regretted my decision even once. In each one of these children, I see myself. They do not have to travel far to go to school anymore, and they can begin their education at the right age. But many challenges remain the same. The outlook of parents towards education, particularly in case of daughters, has not changed. However, we try our best to ensure that there are no drop-outs. We conduct door-to-door visits to all the families in the village to identify non-school going children, and counsel their parents on the necessity of sending their kids to school. Today more than 80% of the children of school-going age are enrolled at the centre. This is one of our biggest achievements.
When these children grow up and become something in life, I will feel my life has served some purpose. I doubt if any of them would remember me. But I am happy to be able to play a small role in building a better life, a brighter future for my children.”
(As shared by Moni Marandi, teacher at Smile Foundation’s Mission Education centre-SERVE in Koucha village, Burdwan, West Bengal. Moni’s classroom is one of the most fun classrooms to be in. Children learn through role play, art and through teaching each other. She has developed her own teaching model and while we are so proud of what she has been able to accomplish, she continues to dream of even bigger things.
Thousands of teachers like Moni work on the ground every day because they all share a common vision- to see every child in school. If you share their goal, then join hands with us for our initiative #MyMissionEducation. Visit smilefoundationindia.org/me for more details.)