There is no doubt that education is the best gift that each child deserves. However many children in our country have been deprived of basic education. Have we in our daily lives, stopped and even given a thought on how we can contribute to making their lives better.
Well, this is a story of Mumbai-born Sandeep Desai, a former marine engineer, and academician who did the unthinkable to fund the education of children who are deprived of education.
Born to a teacher mother, Desai was always adept at learning and grew up with a disciplined life. After becoming a marine engineer, he landed the post of professor for the same at a well-known college.
His life was going well: a good salary, a sense of contentment and a copious amount of time for his hobby of travelling. His hobby made him set foot in 43 countries and, as a habit learnt from his mother, to see the educational system there.
The earliest inspiration in the life of this man who imbibed the value of charity in education were his parents. He felt the need to continue their legacy of making opportunities to educate everyone in India and thus the decision to set up English-medium schools for children who are deprived of education in India, mainly in rural India.
And it had to be only English medium schools as he thought that it is the only way equal opportunities to children can be made regardless of their background.
The questions related to his decision followed: How to turn his idea into a project? and how to raise money for it?
He discussed with his friends and a few college managements, but could not find a proper answer.
Finally, he came to a partially risky conclusion: begging money in Mumbai’s local trains for his schools.
His college students and staff were aghast about their professor’s decision to ‘beg’ in trains. However, Desai was dead set to do it to support his dream.
He boarded a local train with a transparent acrylic box and somehow mustered the courage to beg by yelling on the top of his voice for all passengers to hear, “I am building a school for the underprivileged children and there is no better gift you can give than the gift of supporting the imparting of knowledge.”
He collected about Rs 700 in coins and currency notes of different denominations on his first day.
One day, a group of local boys heckled Desai while he was begging, but one boy from among them came forward, faced the group and said, “This guy is begging to give an education to poor children. Help if you can or else just shut it.”
This incident made Desai proud of his work and more confident in his endeavour.
There have also been other incidents with Desai in his work, which was later joined by his mother after he started it in 2009.
Desai has been detained twice by railway authorities for begging and had spent a day at the police station.
In 2015, a large crackdown was conducted after reports surfaced that many begging on trains in Mumbai are doing so for fake trusts.
Desai was taken to the court along with many of the agents from fake trusts. The investigation in the case continues even now. This even though legal and registered public trusts are allowed to solicit funds anywhere even in trains.
However, he continues his ‘fund collection job,’ as he calls it, in local trains.
His work has been noted and published by many domestic and foreign news entities and has used the cutouts of these news reports to advertise his work and prove his work’s authenticity while begging in the trains.
He has already made most of his dream come true with schools for children in the rural areas of Bihar, Rajasthan and Maharashtra using a learning method where children are taught native nursery rhymes and verses in English.
He has educated thousands of children with free education, uniforms, hostels and meals, all under his NGO ‘Shloka Missionary.’
Presently, Desai gets more than Rs 1 crore in donations from various sources for his school projects. But he still begs in trains for his future school projects.