Shirish Pawar, national award-winning actor |
Sameer Mohite’s Upjeevika Foundation is offering free spoken English classes at one Buddha Vihara in Worli, Mumbai, and two others in Chiplun, Konkan.
Dr Sameer Mohite, 40, started his academic journey from a point of hesitation. On his second day in college, he learnt of a student exchange program with Sweden. “I saw three students sitting in the office. When I got to know that they were going to go to Sweden, I knew I had to go too,” he recounted. The teacher and social worker remembered that incident as being a turning point in his life.
Through his non-profit, Upjeevika Foundation, Mohite, who teaches at Nirmala Niketan college, works on building the psycho-social learning of children by working on their spoken English. He has worked in various parts of Chiplun in Konkan, and recently started working at Buddha Viharas in Mumbai. “We draw our motivation from Dr BR Ambedkar. If he had educated himself from several universities across the world, why shouldn't we, his followers, aim for the same?” Mohite said.
Working with several Zilla Parishad schools, Mohite helped two of his students enrol at Oxford University and at the University of Edinburgh. “These are students from the Dalit community, who fought against the odds they found themselves in to reach there,” Mohite said.
A Dalit himself, Mohite accepts that he was lost after finishing his schooling. “It's the same dilemma I see in my students,” he said. “Lack of awareness, and no self-confidence, especially in English, the language of education almost everywhere, lead to increasing dropout rates.” Mohite himself took a gap year and enrolled at Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work. “That's where my journey began,” he recounted.
Using colloquial English without enforcing strong grammatical boundaries, Mohite and his team have tried making English accessible. “We learnt on the way that to retain the attention of students, we have to work on more than just the language. We introduced some ice-breaking activities, made the session more personally involving, and that became the glue,” he said.
Mohite plans on turning the several community centres or Buddha Viharas in Mumbai into learning centres. “The marginalised children need equitable education and a hand-holding place where they can access the world outside of their purview. The Viharas were never meant to be religious centres, but were centres of knowledge,” he said.
His team has started one learning centre at a Buddha Vihara in Worli and two others in different parts of Chiplun. “We are aiming to work with 10 more centres in the coming year in Mumbai. I believe if we can manage the community centres well, we would be reaching out to a lot of young people and increasing their knowledge retention.”
Filmmaker and actor Shirish Pawar who worked with Upjeevika for three years, teaching acting, film-making and music to children in the Chiplun centres, said Mohite is a committed activist who decided to spend his own money on keeping the initiative running after a fellowship ran out. “We were able to get children more interested in formal education through acting and singing,” he said.