After working in Pune city for about four years as a software engineer, 27-year-old Ashok Deshmane went to his hometown in Marathwada region of Maharashtra. This region is well-known for being water stressed and had then been suffering from drought.
He had heard of many farmer suicide instances. He comes from a farmer family and thus is familiar to the crisis they face. But when he went there and saw the situation on ground, it moved deeply. He saw a different aspect of the issue which was largely ignored.
The issue of farmer suicides has been shouted aloud in the state office of Maharashtra. Opposition and ruling parties are discussing various factors related to the issue. But one factor that is relatively sidelined in this agricultural battle is education and future of kids of these farmers.
Concerned about the future of these children, Deshmane took up the responsibility of educating them. “Kids of many poor farmers and the ones who had committed suicide didn’t go to school as the family couldn’t afford it. Due to drought, the families couldn’t earn even Rs 100 per day. They could not afford education of their kids. These kids had to suffer and they way for their future was unclear too,” said Deshmane, Founder of Snehwan.
He decided to do adopt some of these children. But the way further wasn’t an easy one. His parents initially opposed the idea of letting their only son adopt children before he was married. “I had to explain them that my work no longer made me feel happy and helping these farmers was the task I wished to do. After over a month, my parents agreed and decided to accompany me in this initiative. They shifted to Pune with me and my mother assumed the responsibility of cooking food,” added Deshmane.
Farmer parents were also not keen on the idea of free education for their children in a different area. However, consistent efforts to convince them bore fruits and they agreed to send them.
He spoke to a friend about his idea of adopting kids for education and he offered house with five rooms in Bhosari area of Pune district. Deshmane gladly accepted the offer and called it Snehwan (Forest of Love) adopted 18 kids in the first year in December 2015. In the second year, he adopted 25 kids in the age group of 8-15 years.
As the official guardian, Deshmane takes care of the education of children, food, daily activities, and home studies among all other activities that a parent or guardian would do. Kids have a disciplined schedule that includes regular exercise, studies and extra-curricular activities. Children also learn tabla, classical music, painting from teachers who volunteer to teach them. A small library too has been set up.
Deshmane pumped in all his savings and for the initial eight months, he worked in night shifts to take care of both responsibilities. But he realised that it could not work for long. He quit his job and is now dependant on donations. “My mother initially cooked food for all of us and now since the last November, after my wedding, my wife takes care of it,” said Deshmane.
Before he got married, he had made his side clear as to he would continue working for the children post wedding. Fortunately, his wife Archana too hails from a farmer’s family and is a graduate by academics. “Being educated, Archana was open-minded and she also understood the problems of a farmer’s life. In our community, the practice of dowry still prevails. I had clarified that I don’t want a penny as dowry but my life-partner would have to be someone supportive of the cause I work for. After all, dowry is one of the major reasons behind debts and deaths of farmers. Archana happily accepted her role and since the wedding has been playing the role of a mother the kids,” explained Deshmane.
About 30 people celebrate festivals and stay together as one family. During vacations, children are allowed to go to their parents. With the upcoming academic year, there will be addition to the number of kids to 30 residential and 20 non-residential.
A modest Deshmane humbly said, “Being associated with social workers like Dr Prakash Amte, I always wanted to do something substantial for society. With this initiative, I am fortunate to be an intermediary to let the cause take shape. Never before had I sensed this level of happiness. Good people around have been kind enough to help me pave way at every step.”
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The CSR Journal Team