"KHUSHI" is an AWARENESS CAMPAIGN, launched by Vedanta Resources plc, with a focus to sensitize people towards care for the underprivileged and deprived children – their Nutrition – Education – Health and overall development. Join Khushi on facebook at and send motivational stories at . LET US MAKE INDIA A CHILD MALNOURISHED FREE NATION..



Mahesh Desai, a budding entrepreneur, was sitting at a tea stall not far from his jeans-manufacturing factory in Narol in a pensive mood despite doing quite well in the business. Making money was not enough for him to get a sense of satisfaction. He wanted to do something meaningful in life, which would gift him with lasting peace.

At the tea stall worked a teenage boy who was good in adding up bills of customers and his employer depended on him for the mental number-crunching. Desai knew he had found his way. From the very next day whenever Desai went to have tea at the roadside kiosk he took along a book of alphabets and basic mathematics.

That was 10 years ago. Today Desai, 55, is runs four informal schools in Naranpura, Sabarmati and Ranip where 150 children study. There is also a hostel for meritorious students.

"When I started teaching the boy at the tea stall, he would be often called away by his employer to deliver tea to offices and factories. I found it very rude but also understood that the young boy needed to make a living. Then I struck upon this idea of starting schools, even if under makeshift sheds and also a hostel for students with promise and inclination for academics," said Desai, who had shifted to Gujarat from Pune in 2003 to establish his textile industry.

The first spot that Desai identified for a school was very close to Naranpura police station. The reason for selecting this particular site was its proximity to a slum housing migrant labourers and their families. But, the going was tough for this Good Samaritan. "The first experience was quite shocking. The moment I spoke about studies and schooling, the children fled and their parents turned a deaf ear. Then I changed tactics and started taking snacks with me. The move worked initially and children started coming for classes daily," said Desai.

After six months of running the school with the added attraction of snacks, Desai changed his approach again. "I felt I was enticing the students with snacks. I did not find this appealing and so I stopped taking snacks and half of the students stopped coming from the next day. But, I was also quite pleased that I had a batch of students who were genuinely interested in studies," Desai added.

Desai taught the students according to the Gujarat Secondary and Higher Secondary Education Board syllabus. When the students completed standard IV in the informal school, Desai got them admission in schools run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.

"I faced some problems at the start since my schools are still informal in status. But, I ask the school authorities to conduct tests for my students. Most of them have passed with flying colours and have got admission in the municipal schools. The eldest of my students is now ready to pass out of standard X, I have promised to sponsor his higher education too. I have taught them to dream big and I am committed to staying with them all the way, till they get employed."

The unique bond he shares with his students is reflected in the hostel he has set up in Pragatinagar, Naranpura. "When some of the migrant labourers' families wanted to return to their home state, my students said they wanted to stay back with me and study. Five years back I rented a quarter in Pragatinagar where 10 of my students stay. The youngest one studies in standard II," he said. Desai not only teaches the resident students but also sponsors their food, clothes and books.

His project of compassion has also got a fan following. "Small-time businessmen have reached out with help. For instance, a paan shop owner gives me donations every month while a barber has stepped up to give free haircuts to my students and a grocery shop owner sells us food grains below the maximum retail price," said Desai.

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