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The redoubtable babus of Mumbai[continued]

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A cloth merchant donated textile for 500 sets of uniforms. They began to collect partly used stationery. The rest of the requisitioned items had to be bought. Pawar took a loan for Rs.15,000. Let us pause a moment, to applaud a clerk who borrowed to give- and so founded a mission. They hired a van and travelled for a week to rural schools in Lanja taluka. There at simple meetings, they distributed their collection. And returned home fulfilled.

That pattern has barely changed in the last 15 years, though everything has grown and become organised. Within three years, what began in Lanja taluka, extended to Sangameshwar and Rajapur talukas. They began to communicate through advertisements in local papers as the response grew steadily. In 1994, the Lanja Rajapur Sanghameshwar Taluka Utkarsha Mandal was formed as a charitable trust. Today with some 50 busy, salaried clerks as members, the Trust runs an operation spanning 3 counties, hundreds of schools and children, calling for an average annual budget between Rs 500,000 and Rs 900,000.

Regular as the monsoons :

The Mandal's two main activities are to provide materials and supplies to schools and children, and to find sponsors willing to adopt promising children's continued education. The exercise begins a couple of months before every monsoon. In March-April headmasters respond to the Mandal's advertisements in their local dailies and send in their requisitions- mostly stationery, basic furniture, clothing, shoes, school bags etc. Unspeakably, saddeningly, trivially priced for most of us, but unaffordable for thousands of rural children.

After sifting through hundreds of responses, members prepare a master shopping list. It's a rule they have that only the best will do; no cheap goods just because the children are poor and in the countryside. They shop for best value deals.

The Mandal began its adoption programme in 1996. Under it, promising students are selected based on their needs, diligence and potential to benefit from the programme. Teachers and headmasters endorse applicants and during annual visits, Mandal members personally interview short listed candidates. Detailed files are prepared on each and sent to donors.

Mandal's criteria for selection and terms of offer, are noteworthy. The application form asks for no details of caste or religion. What they ask in return for support, is that the student maintains a minimum of 90% attendance and passes all exams every term; there is no pressure to top the class or score high.

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