Sunday, August 10, 2008

Spring of Hope in a Ghetto of Despair

Saturday – 9th August 2008 was meant to be an ordinary day without any of the glamour attached to 08-08-08, but it was not to be. Let me share my experience.

A few of my office colleagues and I have been debating the previous few weeks about the need to give back to society, do some social work or “seva” as we call it. Being from a corporate background, it was natural to come up with grandiose plans with no thought given to how we were to execute them.

Wiser counsel prevailed and we realized that we know very little of life outside our air-conditioned offices and sanitized environment. Our present efforts are to see and understand ground realities.

We visited a small school at Dharavi in North-Central Mumbai. Dharavi has earned the dubious distinction of being the largest slum in Asia with a population of over one million packed tightly in an area of just 1.75 sq kms.

We visited the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir run out of half a dozen sheds at the north-west corner of this mega shanty town.

This is a school with two hundred thirty students spread across Nursery to Class – V. The school authorities plan to add one higher class every year till they reach the tenth standard in the next five years.

The school presently has eighteen teachers led by Principal - Ms Shubhangi Karvir and a few support staff.

The school is part of the Sri Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir initiative in value education. Apart from the normal curriculum, great emphasis is laid on other activities like dance, music, martial arts like taekwondo, sports including chess and skating. Students from the third standard upwards are also taught about computers in a separate lab set up.

A novel part of the teaching process is the way in which “Value Based Education” is made a part of all subjects. Young minds are exposed to human values like compassion, friendship, caring, mutual respect, and teamwork….and so on.

What sets this school apart from many other schools is the incredible student-teacher ratio. The maxim of one teacher for every twenty students is strictly followed.

What we heard was impressive but what we saw overwhelmed us. Dharavi is as dirty as slums can get. Every possible failing of human nature can be seen there. Alcoholism and drug addiction is rampant and violent behaviour is the accepted norm.

Students come from disturbed homes and vitiated neighbourhoods. There is no concept of personal hygiene or a nutritious diet. It is an angst and acrimony filled atmosphere.

In the midst of all this is a monumental effort put in by a band of very dedicated people determined to make a difference in the lives of those whom modern Indian society has forgotten. To mend such tender lives and get them on a productive path requires immense confidence in oneself and faith that there is an "Unseen Power" who is directing this change.

A Spring of Hope bursts forth in a Ghetto to blow away the clouds of Despair.


Krishnan said...

"A Spring of Hope bursts forth in a Ghetto to blow away the clouds of Despair" What a poetic way of putting it Mavin. Kudos to the people who have made it.

LBSS said...

The school is indeed a positive accomplishment--but, happily, it is hardly the only such effort of its kind in Dharavi. I suggest you go to for more information about perspectives and accomplishments in Dharavi. If you'd like to visit, see

I am very surprised at the comments about alcohol and drugs, about lack of personal hygiene, about angst and acrimony. I wonder if this isn't perhaps a perspective born of the contrast with air-conditioned offices, corporate environments?

I raise this because my impressions of Dharavi are so very different: of incredible enterprise in small spaces, hard work under conditions that would be simply impossible in the West, courtesy towards visitors, and conspicuous efforts to make the best of situations that would boggle most Westerners' imaginations.

See for yourself. What many in Dharavi accomplish is awe-inspiring.

LBSS, Portland Maine US

Mavin said...

Thanks Krish!!! It is very impressive. The team there certainly needs a thump on their backs.

Hi LBSS from Portland, Maine,
thanks for dropping by and also for your comment.

I am sure the SSRVM is not the only such effort. There would definitely be many more such efforts from various motivated individuals and groups. Every one of them is worthy of support and applause.

Whatever I have mentioned in my blog is neither my colleagues' nor my perception. We definitely were not judgemental.

This is based on what we heard from the faculty and support staff. Some of the children even need continuous support from counsellors attached to the school.

Tourist brochures or guided tours do have a tendency to romanticise and gloss over the essentials.

The harsh reality of life normally escapes notice or is ignored as it could be inconvenient.

I do not wish to paint every one with the same brush and in a population of one million a handful or two may have awe-inspiring accomplishments but what about the rest of them.

Do keep sending your comments. A different perspective is always welcome.

mitr_bayarea said...


Thanks for sharing the background of Sri Ravishankar Vidya Mandir in the slums of Dharvi. It is inspiring to see the school's survival under the conditions you've emntioned. Nice of you to share this.

swaps said...

Yes it is a spring of hope. My cousin also runs a similar establishment in a village in Karnataka. Education is right way to escape from poverty.

Anonymous said...

These are the perfect times to bring more awareness and understanding plus solutions to poor areas in our countries. Here in Hong kong where i live, it may be a little different from Dharavi but if we "reach the essence" we will find many many points in common, hence changes are always welcome everywhere. all the best! radha

Mavin said...

Thanks Mitr from Bay Area.
You have a nice blog.


Thanks for dropping by. Nice to hear about your cousin running a school in a village in Karnataka.
Why don't you feature that effort on your lovely site.

Hi Radha,

Welcome to "My Voice". You finally managed to leave a comment on blogspot.

You are right. The basic problems with human beings are same everywhere. We have strayed far away.

With faith and confidence we can all put in efforts and let the divine take care of the rest.

Nita said...

It is indeed such people who are keeping our country going. I wonder if the Teach India campaign will in anyway speed up this process.
btw Mavin (rather, Anil) I added you to my blogroll.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

Hi, Anil! Good to find you going around and seeing the good work going on in the city! Feels good to read about the selfless souls venturing into noble social work of teaching children in Dharavi.
Keep posting such stories - better than the muck-raking in high places for sure...

Mavin said...

Hi Nita,

Welcome to My Voice. Thanks for your visit and comment.

Teach India has certainly raised awareness. Even if this initiative peters out in due course, it would have helped a lot. A lot many volunteers who wish to continue can then align themselves with schools like these.

Thank you very much for linking me to your Hall of Fame. Deeply honoured!!!

Hi Gopi,

You are right. Reading, talking, writing and discussing about all the rubbish going on makes you cynical and dimwitted.

It is time we focus on things that inspire.

Gopinath's "Artickles" said...

I have submitted your page review on StumbleUpon! Now, you will get viewers from this site...

Mavin said...

Thanks Gopi!!!!!!!!

Vikram said...

I have linked this post on my blog, since I think awareness about these kind of initiatives should be spread. This was a very good thought on your part and an equally good write up.