Anand Sonawane, Enlighten International School, Khopoli, Maharashtra
Advocate Anand Sonawane’s journey is a true inspiration. As the son of farmers from a poor family in a marginalized community, he realized that education was the only key to a better life and respect in society. He shared his powerful story with us, and his passion for education and social justice was palpable.
“I feel so happy and proud,” Anand says, “because once upon a time our community had very little or no access to education, and now it is within reach for so many of us. BR Ambedkar opened the door of wisdom for us, and it’s our moral duty to continue to grow that tree of knowledge and opportunity.”
Anand’s own success is a testament to the power of education. He completed his LLB and DLL and became a lawyer, practicing in the high court and handling legal departments of two companies. But his mission doesn’t stop there.
He’s committed to bringing education to students from marginalized and economically backward societies.
Anand’s parents were his inspiration, encouraging him to read books and pursue education. And now, with his own personal library of over 750 books, he knows the power of books to change lives and make people more socially aware.
“Books changed my life,” he states, “and now I want to do my part to make education accessible to everyone who wants it.”
The inspiration behind starting school
“The inspiration behind starting our school runs deep, and it all started with my admiration for Ambedkar. Babasaheb gave us an educational legacy that we feel is our generation’s responsibility to carry on. We have been active in the social sector since 2002, working tirelessly to establish a strong foundation within the community,” Anand proudly states.
Before even opening the doors, they were out in the field, building relationships with various groups, including the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, and economically backward communities. “Our goal was to inspire people to pursue education, employment, and the benefits of government facilities while addressing their unique challenges,” he establishes.
The team provided support in various ways, including transportation for students to and from school, access to educational materials, and organizing blood donation camps. They also made it a point to spread awareness about government schemes and connect people with the resources they needed to thrive.
Through these efforts, Anand knew he wanted to do even more for the community. He saw the need for a school that would provide education and impact countless lives. And with that in mind, he made it his mission to open a school that would provide opportunities and inspire future generations.
“Now, as we reflect on our journey and the impact we’ve made, we are proud of the strides we’ve taken. It all started with our admiration for Ambedkar and our desire to carry on his legacy. And today, we are grateful to have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of those around us.”
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How the school started
“Opening a school was just a dream for us, a group of 15 well-educated individuals who didn’t come from an educational background. But we knew that the future of our nation depended on the generation we were building, and we were determined to make a difference,” Anand shares, ecstatically.
“I still remember my days in a government school, but times have changed. In this age of privatization, education has evolved, and students need to study in English medium to survive and thrive in the worldwide competition. This reality sparked a flame in us, and we established an educational trust called Nirvana.”
But building an educational institute was no easy feat. Anand and his team faced numerous challenges, from acquiring land and obtaining school affiliation to hiring socially conscious and passionate teachers. “Luckily, Dr. Tayade from Khopoli helped us with infrastructure by allowing us to build a school on his land. Our legal background proved to be beneficial, as we were able to navigate the complex requirements for obtaining affiliation up to the 12th standard.”
But for Anand, perhaps the greatest challenge was convincing parents to trust them. “We initially focused on children who were deprived of education and those from completely illiterate families, but we knew we had to win over their parents to make our vision a reality. It was a real struggle, but we persevered.”
Finally, in 2015, Anand was able to open Enlighten English Medium Schools under the Nirvana trust with just 30 students. It was a humble beginning, but they were filled with hope and determination to make a difference in the lives of our students. They knew that their journey had just begun and were ready to face whatever challenges lay ahead.
Enlighten School started with just 30 students, and now, they have grown to accommodate 450 students. To Anand, this is a remarkable achievement, and he couldn’t be prouder of their school. What’s even more remarkable is that children from completely illiterate families are now able to communicate in English with their families. The positive feedback from parents is priceless to them, and it’s a testament to the school’s commitment to providing quality education.
Anand recounts a particular event at the school, where parents and guests had arrived, and the students performed a drama and other activities in English. The satisfaction and happiness on the faces of parents and teachers were a proud moment for everyone involved. It was a moment of pure joy and a celebration of how far the school has come.
What makes Enlighten School unique is that all the trustees contribute 10% of their income towards school purposes. This enables the school to operate on a no-profit and no-loss basis, and it’s something that they are all incredibly proud of. This dedication and passion towards education is what sets Enlighten School apart, and it’s what makes them so successful.
Schooling during COVID-19
Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, most schools in Anand’s rural community emerged stronger and more socially sensitive than ever before. “As access to online education was limited due to a lack of smartphones among our parents, we knew we had to take a different approach to ensure that our students didn’t fall behind.”
Anand shares, “Our teachers were determined to keep the flame of education burning for our students, so they went door-to-door, visiting each student and delivering worksheets and question papers. We even organized small group sessions at a nearby location, taking all necessary safety precautions. Thanks to the unwavering dedication of our teachers, we were able to ensure that the majority of our students continued with their education and avoided the widening learning gap caused by the pandemic.”
When school finally resumed, Anand and the teachers made sure to reserve the first two months for revision and remedial education. And to further support their students’ progress, the school enlisted the help of social organizations and their volunteers to teach students on weekends and help them catch up to their grade level. “Despite the challenges we faced, we were able to navigate the difficult times and continue to provide our students with a quality education.”
Also Read: How Zeal School is improving English proficiency in rural students
Experience with Varthana
Anand shared a heartfelt experience with Varthana, revealing the harsh reality of running a school without donations. “We don’t take donations for admissions and in such cases, we really lack funds to run the school,” he laments. “There is a lot of development we have to undertake in order to sustain the school.”
Things took a turn for the worse during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the school faced a financial crisis. “We had to run a school, give teachers a salary, and also we had to build classrooms for the upper primary classes,” Anand explains. “We lost hope that we could sustain our school, but Varthana gave us a ray of hope.”
Thanks to Varthana, the school was able to take a loan and build the much-needed classrooms. “As we lacked classrooms for further classes, many parents opted out of admission,” Anand says. “But as we built classrooms, many of them returned back.” The impact was immediate, as the school’s student population grew from 295 to 450 students.
Thanks to Varthana’s support, the school was able to sustain itself and run at full capacity.
Anand dreams of establishing a university that offers vocational courses alongside other degree programs. “It’s not just about providing education, but about transforming backward communities. To ensure that this vision becomes a reality, strict regulations are set in the trust. None of our family members can take up trust membership in the future, and only one student will be chosen to be the director of the school,” he stresses.
But that’s not all. Anand and his trustees have a dream to identify and prepare five students for five different fields. Every year, the trustees raise funds to support these rising stars.
Enlighten School is a shining example of what can be achieved when people come together with a common goal. The commitment of the trustees, teachers, and staff towards providing quality education is truly remarkable. Their success is not just measured by the number of students they have, but by the impact they have on the lives of their students and their marginalized families.