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Changemakers – Building the Citizens of Tomorrow: Latha Rao

Migrant workers are a large part of the workforce around us. They come from afar and are always in transit. There are over 7 crore migrant labourers across the country. They leave their homes to earn their livelihood. They barely have a roof over their head and two square meals a day. It is the children who pay the price for these travels as they are uprooted from their homes without any way to access the education they need.

This is what struck the mind of Latha Rao, when she first settled into Poornaprajna Layout, Bengaluru. Today she heads a non-formal school that provides basic education and support to almost 30-40 students every year all of whom are children of migrant labourers. Reflecting on what inspired her to begin this initiative, she said, “We were building a house in Poornaprajna layout and I used to travel here every day. I could see children who should have been in school pursuing their education were being denied the opportunity. It was then that I thought of doing something for the children. I have always loved children, because they are the purest of souls in the world.” This is how the Poornaprajna Non-Formal School was born.

Humble Beginning

The beginning was not easy, the parents had to be convinced that their children would be better off at school. It is tough to explain this to migrant families. Through a combination of explanation, and convincing Latha managed to get 6 students for the school to begin. In the beginning, she herself would go and escort the children to the school, which was in the courtyard of the local temple. To keep the kids interested in school she employed various techniques which include playing games, offering food and maintaining a lively atmosphere. 

The idea for the school was there but it needed a spark that would convert it into a reality. That is where Youth for Seva and Sri Venkatesh Murthy came in and helped her set up a lasting system. She explains, “I got to know of Youth for Seva and Venkatesh Murthy Ji through my husband who knew them beforehand. They helped me immensely with their resources, experience and continued support. Sri Venkatesh Murthy has always been a pillar of support and my sounding board. Their various training camps taught me how to conduct these activities in an organized manner.” 

Another person she credits is Mr. Hayagreeva Achar, the president of the Resident’s Association – Poornaprajna Layout, who supported her through the process. A close friend, Roopa is also an integral part of the process at the school.

Struggles and Growth through the years

All journeys have to overcome hurdles and so it was with the Poorna-Prajna non-formal school. The children slowly came, but it was tough to keep track of regular attendance. Sometimes, parents would move in search of better opportunities and take their children with them or the children themselves would take up work and then their education would be interrupted. Latha had to consider all these factors while running the school. She recalls how some children would just stop coming. Latha would take it to heart and start worrying for days about where the children might have gone, only to find out their parents had moved or that the kids had taken up some odd jobs to make ends meet. 

A non-formal school helps children with the basics of education, but formal schooling is necessary and the next step is to get them enrolled in a school. “It is not easy. These children have little to no prior education and even their parents seldom realize the importance of good education. My goal is to give them the basics that they require to go and join schools,” Latha explains. Once the students complete basic education, she takes the initiative to get them admitted to the nearby Uttarahalli Government School. This is a crucial step as it plays a major role in integrating them into society in the future. 

Slowly but surely more children started coming and the courtyard at the temple was no longer enough to contain all the children. At that time, Mr. Madan Baldot came in and helped the school by giving a piece of land in the adjacent Happy Valley for a shed to be built. With YFS’s help and support, a large room was built which helped the student’s study better. Another NGO, named Abhyudaya helped out the school by providing books, stationery and other basic necessities. An added advantage was that the school started receiving Mid-Day meals.

The Results and Success Stories

So, what are the results of Latha Rao’s efforts? In the real world, numbers don’t tell the complete story and usually mean little. It is when you look at the number of individual lives within those figures that you realize the monumental nature of the effort put in by Latha Rao. Over the last 11 years, over 200 students have passed through the school of which over 100 are pursuing formal education. In reality, this translates to over 200 lives being transformed to understand the value of education.

Narrating some success stories, she shares how one boy named Shivu who began his education in her school has gone on to complete his diploma. The road was not easy however, as Shivu temporarily stopped going to school in 8th Std. He had moved to his grandmother’s house. Latha went there herself, spoke and counselled Shivu to return to school and continue his education. Shivu is a testament to the fact that one can achieve everything one wants with hard work and dedication. Latha beams with pride as she narrates how he went on to graduate with a Diploma and how 4 other children are in their second year of the pre-university course writing their exams this year. One can see the love Latha has for the children every time she speaks of them. It is only with such love and dedication that a person can bring about change in the society.

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