Deepika Ji* is a single parent of two children and works as a domestic house cook. Unlike her brother, she never got an opportunity to study, as her parents preferred to educate only their son. Originally from Uttar Pradesh, she got married at the age of 14 and was a victim of domestic violence. She decided to leave her husband and migrated to Delhi along with her children to stay with her parents.
Her lack of education notwithstanding, she doesn’t want her children to face any hurdles in their education. Her children now attend a public school in Delhi. She hopes that her daughter will become a lawyer someday and work for women in need of justice, while her son would be an IPS officer. She has been motivating her children to study well and emphasizes physical activity.
Many have dissuaded her from her struggle, asserting that children without fathers can never do well. She is determined to prove them wrong. However, with her parents’ demise a few years ago, the task has become even tougher.
The question we struggled with during the pandemic is how can we support families and parents, who struggle with the loss of livelihood and school closure, while ensuring the wellbeing of their children. One cannot undermine the efforts made by parents last year to ensure children are well and continue to learn at home. It is in these times that we observed extraordinary leadership taken by parents in communities across Delhi and Maharashtra. Parents like Deepika Ji are the inspiration behind what we do at Saajha.
At Saajha we believe in the potential and dignity of all parents and build platforms for them to impact the lives of their children. We are working towards building an ecosystem for parents to feel connected and supported in their efforts, and we have been doing this for the last 8 years.
Saajha’s inception and the journey have been influenced and powered by my life experiences and those of my co-founders. Growing up in a fairly middle-class environment meant that much of my parents’ time and money was invested in my education. One of the things my parents taught me was to question everything. As a result, I grew up an inquisitive and rebellious child, often getting into arguments with my teachers. After obtaining my undergraduate degree, I started working with government school principals, supporting their efforts to transform schools. An incident during that duration became a point of deeper reflection.
In 2010, I was living in a small village in Rajasthan with Vinod, a 12-year-old boy, and his family, who belonged to a scheduled caste. Vinod attended the local public school, which catered to the entire village, yet had only one regular teacher. I soon realized that even as a fifth-grader, Vinod could not read. Disengaged and discriminated against in school, Vinod wanted to drop out and get a job in the city. His mother was concerned but felt powerless, and at the age of 12, Vinod left for the city. My stay with Vinod and his family pushed me to think about the role my parents, and my privilege have played in my education and how it has shaped me. We know that 50% of children in grade V in India cannot read grade 2 texts. What if all parents could get the required support to overcome barriers of class, caste, and other forms of disadvantage to champion their children and transform their lives?
To answer these questions and many more, Saajha was formed in 2014 as an effort to strengthen School Management Committees (SMCs), elected bodies of parents, and teachers mandated to improve public school accountability. Early on, we realized there is a need to work with parents and communities beyond the SMCs to strengthen public education. In our research, we found comprehensive models of parental involvement, but none that applied to our developing world realities. Building on our experience, we were able to create a peer-led parental support model encircling parental participation across home, school, and community. In the last few years, we have been refining and creating tools and frameworks to ensure the scalability and sustainability of our approach.
The journey that I have taken has helped me to recognize the meaning and impact of want I want to create through my work. My parents have played a huge role in my life, and my current work is in some ways a tribute to their courage as well as the courage demonstrated by all parents to ensure that their children thrive.
Saransh Vaswani is a graduate in Computer Science and a theater enthusiast, Saransh was awarded the Echoing Green fellowship in 2014 and was featured in Forbes India’s 30 under 30 list of young achievers for his work with Saajha. He is the co-founder of Saajha.