By Harshikaa Udasi | Opening Doorz Editorial | March 08, 2017
On Women’s Day, Opening Doorz celebrates a unique human who opens her doors to the slum children, educating them not only with books but also making them one with nature.
Harshikaa Udasi meets Nikita Pimpale who is just being human…
Tucked away in the bylanes of suburban Mumbai, right behind one of the ‘prestigious’ international schools, is Rishi Valmiki Eco School (RVES). Nothing fancy about it. Its ‘campus’ is an existing BMC school in Goregaon; just four rooms of the state-run educational institute, to be precise. But with a little bit of support, this ‘David’ is poised to give the ‘Goliaths’ a run for their money.
Started with just nine students in 2010, RVES now boasts of educating 440 children from the slums around the area within those walls right from Nursery to Grade VII. But if you’re expecting a run-of-the-mill educational institute that merely focuses on giving these poor kids a basic education, then banish that thought.
Thanks to a young determined lady named Nikita Pimpale, the founder and principal, this English medium state-board school has made a name for itself. Nikita personally chalks out the curriculum for her students and her focus is the environment. “We didn’t want to give them just bookish knowledge. We wanted them to explore the world around. That’s why we have created an environment-focused curriculum,” says the sprightly lady, who is an environmentalist too.
The seed was sown…
The story began with Prakash Pimpale, Nikita’s father, who runs the Dnyansadhana Education Society (DES) that manages a Marathi-medium school in Mumbai’s Malad area for the children of the fishermen community. “My father was a teacher in a school there. He realized that post grade VII, students would discontinue studies because the school didn’t have classes. The other school was across the creek and parents hesitated sending them there. While my father started appearing for administrative exams, he also urged the locals to pool funds and make rooms for educating their children further. When the sarpanch agreed, another school was made. This took years! By that time my father was managing 32 schools in Mumbai,” she says.
Prakash Pimpale’s DES spurred Nikita to pursue a career as an educationist. In 2010, father and daughter galvanized resources once again to seek space in BMC schools for educating children. “How I wish we had managed to book more rooms right then. I wasn’t sure of what the response would be like and in any case, we didn’t have the funds to book more!” says Nikita, as she laments the lack of space seven years later. RVES runs its school right up to 7 pm to accommodate all its children. The teachers and the principal work almost round-the-clock.
Nikita believes in story-based learning for her children. So even though her school follows the Maharashtra state board syllabus, she has personally designed special teaching methods for each lesson in every subject. “Every lesson including Geography and Science has stories, poems or drama to make learning not just enjoyable but also effective. For higher grades, along with stories and drama, subjects have been made interesting by adding practical activities and information that may not be there in the book. What we also do besides this is give our lessons a sensitive touch to help our children develop an emotional quotient and make them good human beings,” says Nikita.
While the rest of the schools are busy celebrating Fashion Shows and Valentine’s Day, RVES enthusiastically celebrates Tiger Day, Honeybee Day, Elephant Day and Snake Day! In fact, every alternate year, they host a Wildlife Fest—Tales From the Wild under which they conduct an intensive training programme for their children. In 2013-14, they studied 70 Birds Of Mumbai. In 2015-16, the project was on Mammals Of India. They studied mammals for six months intensively. That included types of mammals, their habitat, their food habits, their challenges and even their mating procedures. “We have external educators come in to guide our children and conduct workshops. Post those six months, children prepare skits and awareness programmes about what they have learnt. For instance, last year we had three special projects handled by our children: Blocked Migration Route of Asian Elephants, Ganges River Dolphins in Crisis and Leopard-Man Conflicts,” says Nikita, beaming.
You too can help the school with…
Music System/ Musical Instruments
Notably, RVES had been invited the by State Forest Department for their contingent at the State Republic Day Parade 2015. Its kids have been winning the first prize for their plays at the Sanctuary Kids For Tigers Wildlife Festival for three consecutive years! Besides they were also part of the Silent Rally 2014 held at the Sanjay Gandhi National Park to curb noise pollution.
As her kids gather outside the campus to bird-watch as part of the Campus Bird Count as a sub-event for the Great Backyard Bird Count, they excitedly tell her about having seen a Spotted Blyth’s Reed Warbler, a Coppersmith Barbet, a Tailorbird, a male and female Fantail Flycatcher and a male Purple-rumped Sunbird in just 15 minutes! As I look astonished, that look on her face is indescribable.
(Harshikaa Udasi has worked with top publications across the country for the last 15 years. When not busy with her journalistic pursuits, she runs a book reading club for children called Book Trotters Club. Besides these full-time pursuits, she enjoys observing the two main circuses of our country—Bollywood and politics.)
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