Learning takes place in quaint wilderness! 

By  Molly Pathak,LAHI:

DIFFICULTIES STRENGTHEN THE MIND AS LABOUR DOES THE BODY.Through this blog post, I am going to tell you a story of four young boys, their individual struggles and situations that led them to come together for a common purpose i.e. ‘to rise up in life’.

This story takes off from ‘Hunnar Gurukul’ an artisan training school; located in a quaint village named Uttur, in Kolhapur district of Maharashtra. Situated by Kolhapur-Panjim highway, Uttur is fabulously spoilt by lush green trees and a wilderness that brings in positive vibes about nature’s undeterred bounty. I had visited Uttur in March 2019, to review the year-long skilling program.  The temperatures had just begun soaring yet there was tranquility in the air and a deep sense of quietude which is necessary for holistic learning to prevail.

Hunnar Gurukul is an initiative of ‘Cause to Connect Foundation’, a Pune based NGO established in the year 2016, supported and nurtured by Lend A Hand India. Mr. Aniruddha Bansod, a passionate professional leads it.

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Lighter moments captured at Hunnar Gurukul with students

Academic year 2018-19, was the first year of its project implementation. The first batch of students at Hunnar Gurukul consisted of eight boys who had not fared well in the formal education system but had an inherent aptitude for artistry. Through its one year course, the Gurukul had addressed their capacity gap between formal education and vocational skill training and saved these individuals from turning into migrant laborers.  As the name suggests, Hunnar Gurukul is a residential program implemented through a well designed time table which includes activities for physical, personal and spiritual1 growth for the students.

Hunnar Gurukul imparts year-long practical vocational skill training in carpentry and masonry. Each session lasts for twelve months and the course is split into three parts i.e. – four months of concept based practical training, three months of production where students make real life usable models by applying the skills learnt in workshop and the last three months of on job training with a domain specialist. Upon completion of course, students are encouraged to explore options of placements and/or entrepreneurship. The Gurukul handholds its students in getting their first work/job orders in place.

Leaving behind the nitty-gritty of training and its components, which are otherwise available through reports and statistics, I concentrated on stories at the Gurukul.

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As of March 2019; Gautam, is a gritty 17 year old, newest entrant into the Hunnar Gurukul. About 2 years ago Gautam used to beg at Kurla railway station in Mumbai. Physical abuse, hunger, destitution, helplessness, he had experienced it all in most horrible proportions and in great detail. He was rescued from that fearful existence by Snehalaya, an Ahmednagar based NGO. At Snehalaya he was clothed, sheltered and given a new identify, but educating him was a challenge because of his age and no prior background in formal education. To make sure that he wouldn’t fall back into the vicious circle of helplessness, he was brought in at Hunnar Gurukul to receive vocational skill training over mere literacy. Gautam is a student of carpentry.

His trainer says that Gautam speaks very less, is shy by nature but an avid learner. During an in-depth interview with Gautam, I found that he had experienced the greatest amount of trust deficit in his earlier life at Mumbai and hence remained isolated in the beginning. As time progressed, the positive learning environment, individual attention and care at Hunnar Gurukul helped him heal his past scars and open up to cheerfulness. On the day of the visit, after classes in the evening the boys had presented a song and dance program to express their happiness about having a visitor in their campus. Gautam had anchored that program with limited words but excitement that oozed out of his sincere eyes. Gautam’s case is a strong example of vocational education as an instrument for nurturing, healing and moving up towards better life conditions.

Three 18-21 year old boys, Rohan, Rohit and Rishi; slightly senior students of carpentry, were on the verge of completing their course at the time of writing this story. Having spent their childhood at Snehalaya, destiny had brought all three of them together for livelihood based vocational skill training at Hunnar Gurukul. They know nothing as to who their biological fathers were, all they know is that their biological mothers were into professions that ‘society would not accept’2 and hence they had been sent away by their own mothers to the shelter home at Snehalaya for a better life. As per their trainer, all the three boys have been exceptionally good students and have taken deep interest in learning and allied activities throughout their stay at the gurukul. During the visit I had an informal conversation with them to find out more about their well being and present state of mind. Through the conversation they shared that, at that point of time they were doing their internship with an architect near Velhe block in Pune district.

They also said that after completing their internship they would like to set up a small production shed and take basic job orders. Over and above getting details about their progress in training, I observed that something more than livelihood preparedness had developed between the three of them. I found that from being erstwhile orphans they had started living like brothers, they had become a family with the same dreams and aspirations. This was far much over and above the intended impact of both formal education as well as vocational skill education. 

Having spent a complete day with the first batch students of Hunnar Gurukul; that evening as I left Uttur, I couldn’t help but wonder about the miracles that can be achieved if ‘education is imparted as service of the greatest order, accepted as gratitude and revered as worship’.

(The writer Molly Pathak, works as a Consultant with Lend a Hand India. She draws from the field and writes about the not so theoretical aspects of development which would have gone unnoticed if not said through stories!)

Notes:

1spiritual here means the specific quest present in human beings that makes them seek a better living than the present and a spirit to fight in the face of adversity. It is in no way related to religion. It refers to the drive or eagerness in a human being to excel in a particular task/work/activity.

2 ‘professions that society would not accept’ = commercial sex workers

Names of students have been changed to protect identity.

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