Meet the 19-year-old educating and feeding 200 children of coal miners in Dhanbad
As the Coal Capital of India, the city of Dhanbad is home to many coal miners and their families. But, in the Jharia-Dhanbad belt of Jharkhand, most of these families are poverty-stricken.
For years, Harsh Singh, 19, a resident of Dhanbad, saw these workers and their struggles in making ends meet with their meagre daily wages or by selling coal bags.
It was more heartbreaking to see their children also carrying these bags, he tells Social Story.
“They told me they wanted to go to school but also needed to earn money to take care of their families,” he recalls.
Not only are most of these children unable to attend school because of financial restraints, but they are also brought up to believe that this is their future.
Harsh decided to approach the parents and convince them to let their children go to school. He also wanted to ensure they get proper meals every day.
In 2019, he launched the Sahadeva Foundation with a team of around 30 volunteers.
The foundation has 12 teachers — 8 volunteers and 4 paid. It teaches more than 200 children from lower kindergarten to class 6, but plan to expand up to class 10.
“We have tied up with a private school, which will help register our students for their class 10 board exams with CBSE,” says Harsh.
The teachers cover most of the basic subjects like Mathematics, Science, English, and some arts and craft subjects as well. The objective is to develop a system of education where students can analyse their problems by themselves to hone their thinking and reasoning skills.
One of the volunteers of Sahadeva Foundation taking a class for the students before the pandemic.
“We also provide meals to each of these children every day so that their nutrition is not compromised. Only with proper food will they be able to study properly,” Harsh says.
The NGO is supported by donations from his college seniors, alumni, and other well-wishers.
During the summer months, the villagers (including the children) have to trek long distances to collect water from the streams that are often contaminated. As a result, they frequently suffer from water-borne diseases and infections such as jaundice, diarrhoea, and gastroenteritis.
In a partnership with the Saayam Foundation, Harsh and the team also provide clean drinking water for 200 families living in the village Kharikabad.
Due to the pandemic, coal miners and sellers have been rendered jobless, struggling to make ends meet.
“Being daily wage labourers and coal sellers, their work has been stopped. They’re on the verge of begging, the children have gone days without food to eat,” says Harsh
The volunteers of Sahadeva, with the help of others NGOs, reached out to these 4,000+ families to distribute ration kits, and are raising funds for more through DonateKart.
Distribution of relief kits to the families during the Bihar floods.
“For about 3-4 months, we also gave the children hot meals rich in proteins two times a day,” he says.
To ensure continuity in the classes, the local volunteers reach out to the children in their area and teach about four children at a time to avoid the crowding, based on their grades and numbers. These local volunteers are other children of the community, who teach the students of the lower grades.
“During the pandemic, we also distributed milk for about a month to the children,” says Harsh.
Challenges and the way forward
Harsha says the difficult part was convincing the parents to allow the children to learn at the NGO because most of them wanted them to work or get married.
“We told them that their children will be able to get better jobs and opportunities if they get educated. Moreover, getting the children together was also difficult as each one of them would be doing something different at the same time – one would be working, another would be studying,” he says.
Some initiatives, like milk distribution, came to a halt because of a shortage of funds.
So for the road ahead, Harsh hopes to expand the classes and reach out with more courses, all the way from kindergarten to Post Graduation, and even help them get jobs.
In addition, he is trying to get mental health support for these children.
“A few months back, we had gotten psychologists to counsel our children. We are planning to get them more frequently to help our children deal with the everyday trauma,” says Harsh.