A social worker builds a school to bridge the education gap for slum children in Thane Prabhakar and Jithendra Upadhyay, Shreemati Maltidevi Vidyalaya, Ambikanagar, Thane

A social worker builds a school to bridge the education gap for slum children in Thane
Prabhakar and Jithendra Upadhyay, Shreemati Maltidevi Vidyalaya, Ambikanagar, Thane

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Prabhakar and Jithendra Upadhyay, Shreemati Maltidevi Vidyalaya, Ambikanagar, Thane
Prabhakar and Jithendra Upadhyay, Shreemati Maltidevi Vidyalaya, Ambikanagar, Thane

Prabhakar Upadhyay’s journey is nothing short of inspiring. From a very young age, he carried the spirit of an entrepreneur and the heart of a social activist. Although his family’s aspirations were limited to farming roots, Prabhakar sought something more.

Driven by a desire for change, he took a bold step by leaving home in 1969 and came to Mumbai at the tender age of 19. Here, he started as a humble helper at a company, where his brother also worked.

“This job gave me the idea to start my own business. Soon, I started supplying milk to the very company where I once worked, and eventually, started my own full-fledged dairy business.”

Apart from his business, Prabhakar was passionate about helping his community. He started Uttarbharatiy Janjagriti Sangha to help young people with their education and job needs. While some politicians wanted him in their groups because of his good work, Prabhakar chose to remain devoted to grassroots social work. His contributions to the community were profound, from establishing essential infrastructures like drainage systems, toilets, roads, and water lines to bringing electricity to areas in need.

But all this work came with challenges. His businesses struggled and lost money, so he decided to fully focus on helping his community and worked on the Education Committee of the Thane Municipal Corporation.

Inspiration

Infused with an innate drive to contribute to society, Prabhakar dreamed of opening a school with a philanthropic intent. His first attempt, in collaboration with friends, unfortunately didn’t work out, and he had to leave. But he didn’t give up. “In 2003, I started a new school at my own house and charged a small fee of 50 rupees so that every child could access education at affordable fees,” Prabhakar claims.

Also Read: How One School Leader’s Adaptive Measures Led To A Surge In Enrollment During The Pandemic

How it all started

Starting a school with such a noble vision is never without its struggles and Prabhakar, too, faced many issues. In the early days, the school didn’t have an affiliation and some people even complained about it. But he was determined. In a strategic move, Prabhakar temporarily worked with a local school for a while until his own school got its approval.

Today, the torch of his dream is carried forward by his son, Jitendra, who is not just focused on academic achievements but also on imparting good values to students. Passionate about preserving Indian cultural values, the young school leader encourages students to express their emotions and practice gratitude. He wants them to learn and be kind-hearted too.

Proud moment

“We believe it is important to understand each child’s mind and how they learn,” reflects Prabhakar as he recalls an especially poignant success story. “We once took in a student who had been dismissed from another school in the 8th grade, having been labeled as ‘unable to study’. With tailored support and belief in his potential, he scored 75% in his SSC exam. This achievement fills me with immense pride, both in him and our approach.”

His commitment to making a difference doesn’t stop there. He has generously offered education free of cost to several underprivileged students, including some who have lost their parents. Today, these students are doing really well in life.

Also Read: This Leader Left His Well-Paying Job To Build A School That Is Changing Lives In Raigarh

The Pillar of growth: Varthana

“Varthana really helped our school grow,” says Prabhakar with gratitude. “With their loan, we improved our infrastructure, adding an additional floor to our school building. This allowed us to purchase new benches, educational materials, and build separate restrooms for boys and girls. Thanks to their help, our student number grew from 200 to 350.”

Prabhakar further talks about the problems they had during COVID. Their school is in a slum, so online classes were hard at first. “Many parents were too poor to have smartphones or pay for the internet,” he recalls. To address this, they started a mix of both online and in-person classes. This way, students without phones could come to school, and others could join online at the same time.

“When COVID hit, Varthana didn’t just help financially,” Prabhakar continues, “they also provided educational content via WhatsApp, including engaging videos and worksheets. This way, our students could keep learning even when the school was closed.”

When the school reopened, Prabhakar and his team saw that many students had fallen behind. So the teachers went back to basics, re-establishing foundational concepts. They also used the learning resources provided by Varthana.

Vision ahead

Even though the pandemic made things tough and changed some of their long-term plans, Prabhakar and his son Jitendra are still committed to their vision. “We’re looking ahead. We aim to digitize our school, add an E-learning system to meet the demands of modern education,” shares the school leader duo. But their aspirations go beyond technology. They plan on expanding their presence, launching more branches, particularly in slum areas and remote locations. “Our ultimate goal,” Prabhakar firmly says, “is to bring education to places where kids don’t have schools right now, bridging gaps and creating opportunities.”

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