This techie quit his job to educate the children of drought-affected farmers in Maharashtra
Ashok Deshmane was born in Parbhani — a quaint district located in the Marathwada region of Maharashtra. Having grown up amidst parched and unfertilised lands with hardly any rainfall, he knew the struggles of sustaining in a drought.
Ashok did not have a very pleasant childhood. For his family — whose main source of livelihood was farming — obtaining three square meals a day in itself used to be a challenge. In fact, they were unable to earn enough due to severe water scarcity in the region. After doing a few odd jobs and burning the candle at both ends, Ashok managed to fund his higher education.
As years passed by, the young man realised that things had not changed. Poverty, inaccessibility to education and healthcare, dry spells, and farmer suicides were still plaguing people. According to an RTI document, over 15,000 farmers lost their lives to suicide in Maharashtra between 2013 and 2018.
Ashok was appalled when he found out about this dire situation. He wanted to improve the lives of the residents of his hometown and bring about a transformation. For this reason, he quit his well-paying job as a software engineer at Mphasis and started working towards his plan.
In 2015, the 30-year-old established a non-governmental organisation called Snehwan to educate and provide for farmers’ children for free of cost. With the help of his personal savings and some financial aid from his friends, he got the kids enrolled at good schools and also rented out a space to accommodate them.
Today, Snehwan supports over 50 children belonging to low-income farmer families in and around the district of Parbhani.
“When a farmer is in distress or ends his life, a current of dread runs through his family, especially their kids. The mounting debt and harassment meted out by moneylenders disrupt their educational goals. When I got to know about the rising number of farmer suicides in and around my hometown, as well as the hardships experienced by their children, I was determined to help,” Ashok Deshmane, Founder of Snehwan, tells SocialStory.
Ashok Deshmane and his wife Archana.
An inspiring journey
After completing his Masters in Computer Science from Dnyanopasak College in Parbhani, Ashok moved to Hyderabad to pursue a few certificate courses in software development. In 2012, he bagged a job at IT services company Wipro, and later shifted to Mphasis.
Ashok teaching children at Snehwan.
Since Ashok was working out of the Pune office, he used to frequently visit his parents at his hometown. However, when he went down to Parbhani in 2015, he heard about the suicide of a 32-year-old farmer. To date, he vividly remembers everything that transpired on that fateful day.
“When I went to meet the family members of the farmer, they told me that they were planning to send the children to work in the fields, owing to their financial constraints. That got me thinking about the hundreds of other families who must be thinking the same. At that very instant, I decided to extend a helping hand and lay the foundation for Snehwan,” recalls Ashok.
He wanted to spend some time getting the paperwork in place and kicking off the initial operations of the NGO. Therefore, he opted for a night shift. He also used this time to conduct surveys across districts like Beed, Washim, Nanded, and Aurangabad to find out about the farmer suicides in the region, and identify the children who had dropped out of school.
Music being taught to the students after school.
After nine months of groundwork, one of Ashok’s friends agreed to rent out his old four-bedroom house in Bhosari — a locality situated in the suburbs of Pune. Without any delay, he put an all-out effort to refurbish the place in a way it could accommodate as many children as possible.
“Once the residential block was set up, I went about persuading the families of the farmers to send their kids to the shelter in Pune. It took a while for me to gain their confidence, but I ultimately succeeded. About 25 of them allowed their children to be a part of Snehwan,” he says.
As soon as the children arrived at the shelter in 2016, Ashok quit his job to dedicate all his time to the cause. The first thing he did was get these young children enrolled in nearby schools such as the Sharadchandra Vidyalaya and Navin Madhyamik Vidyalaya. He also began catering to their basic needs like food, healthcare, and clothing.
The newly-built computer lab at the NGO.
Additionally, the 30-year-old began offering them rigorous training in a slew of extra-curricular activities after school. He roped in four volunteers and six teachers to conduct sessions on storytelling, sports, singing, painting, and public speaking.
Extra-curricular activities are known to bolster the thinking abilities of kids, as well as enables them to gain confidence and communicate better. And, Ashok understood this very well.
“The average age of children at the shelter is anywhere between eight and 15 years. And, bringing out their hidden talent is of utmost importance at that juncture,” he says.
Archana along with a few of the children who stay at the shelter.
In 2016, Ashok got married to Archana, who was more than happy to know about his work and contribute to it. Since then, she has been cooking meals regularly for all the children at the shelter.
Two years later, as Ashok began providing for more children, he shifted to a bigger space in a village named Koyali near Pune. Dr. Ravinder Kulkarni, a renowned gynaecologist in Pune, donated two acres of land to him to build a spacious shelter for the kids. For this, Ashok obtained funds from corporates and individual donors to construct the block. He also started a crowdsourcing campaign on Milaap.
He wanted to provide a good environment for all the children to learn and flourish. Hence, he arranged for the required resources to build a small computer lab and library within the shelter.
Empowering children all along
Ashok grew up in difficult circumstances. But, he did not let that dampen his spirit. He funded his education, built a career for himself, and changed the course of his life for the better.
Ashok is providing both education and accommodation for the farmers' children.
The young man did not stop with that. He harboured his desire to help others in need by giving free education and shelter to farmers’ children.
“Education is a tool that enables people to step out of poverty. At any cost, I did not want the kids to be deprived of this due to their economic status. I am so glad I could establish an NGO to fill the gap. Witnessing the progress of the 50 children at Snehwan gives me immense joy and keeps me going,” says Ashok.