Pranita Kodisela shares her experience on a day in her life working as a Project Coordinator in Prerana
The literal meaning of the word ‘UDAAN’ is ‘to fly’, and Prerana’s Project Udaan was initiated in September 2021 with the goal to assist children and their families impacted by COVID-19, especially the children who have lost one or both their parents, and help them rebuild their lives and fly again. Having been associated with Project Udaan for over 7 months now, my journey so far has been challenging yet fruitful.
My role as a Project Coordinator helped me gather varied experiences, it added value to my knowledge and helped me grow as a person. One such experience was on 22nd March 2022, when we had organized a parents’ support group meeting in collaboration with the Women and Child Development District Office, Mumbai City. This was the first time that Prerana brought families affected by the pandemic together on one platform. The purpose of the meeting was to facilitate communication and sharing of information, and experiences among the families and to learn from the government officials about the relevant schemes and services announced for the rehabilitation of the families affected by COVID-19. It also was to create a platform for the parents to put forth their queries, concerns, and challenges faced.
Much coordination and preparation had gone into organizing this meeting. Until the previous evening, I was purchasing potted plants for resource persons and ticking all the boxes on the checklist. I was looking forward to this meeting, which brought all the stakeholders under one roof. As Helen Keller says “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.” This meeting was a platform to collaborate and coordinate with the district officials for the benefit of the families.
It was 10 am, and the parents and the resource persons started arriving at the venue. At 10:30 am, when the meeting was about to start, I was informed by a Protection Officer that he had just received a call from Shyama, mother of a 6-year-old Ayush (names changed). She sounded upset and communicated that she, along with Ayush, were sitting outside the school premises and that Ayush was not being allowed to write his exam. Shyama was crying frantically and sought help. The Protection Officer, who was the resource person for the programme, immediately brought this case to my attention and inquired if we at Prerana could do anything to assist the child and the family under its Project Udaan. I was also asked if I could step up and assist the child; I willing agreed to assist in this case.
I promptly discussed this with my team and we decided that it was best for me to head to the school as soon as possible. Upon reaching the school, I found that Shyama and Ayush were sitting near the school gate and were being asked to leave the premises by the security guard. Shyama was in tears and shared what happened and how she felt humiliated. After consoling her and the child, I approached the security guard, introduced myself as Prerana’s staff member and sought for an appointment to speak with the Principal. I was told that she would arrive in an hour. So, we waited.
Meanwhile, I interacted with Ayush and Shyama. Ayush’s mother informed me that Ayush has been studying in Senior KG (for the Academic year 2021-2022) and his exam had just begun. Shyama shared that Kamal, her husband, died due to COVID-19 in May 2021. He was working as an electrician and was the only earning member of the family. Currently, there was no source of income and the little savings that were left were being used for daily household expenses. She was, thus, unable to pay the school fees. She confided in me that there has been a deep sense of insecurity and uncertainty since Kamal’s death. When Ayush cries for his father, it adds to her distress as she finds it difficult to calm him, Shyama shared.
As we were interacting, the security guard came to inform us that there is a board meeting today and that the Principal cannot meet the family. The Prerana team and the Protection Officer were informed about the developments. We requested the security guard to allow us to meet the supervisor at least and we were asked to wait as he went to confirm the supervisor’s availability. We were told that she would be arriving in an hour and we could meet her.
In the next few minutes, we were called to the Supervisor’s room and upon seeing Shyama, the supervisor reprimanded, “How many times will you come here and who have you brought along this time?” I introduced myself to the supervisor and conveyed my purpose of the visit. The supervisor interrupted me and said, “Ayush’s family is not the only family in the world who has suffered a loss due to COVID-19. Several other children in the school, too, have suffered but they managed to pay the fee in full and on time. If Shyama is unable to pay, it is not the school’s problem.”
I was appalled with the insensitivity and lack of compassion Shyama and Ayush were subjected to. I realized how lack of empathy and being oblivious adds to the distress of an already anguished person. Upon hearing this, Shyama’s eyes welled up. Keeping my calm, I requested the supervisor that the family has been suffering already and this treatment would deeply wound them further. I further requested the supervisor to grant an extension and assured her that the fees would be paid before the due date and that Ayush should be allowed to write the exam. The supervisor finally showed some consideration and assured that Ayush will be allowed to appear for his exams.
This meeting ended around 1:30 pm. Ayush and Shyama had not eaten their lunch yet, and it was too late for Shyama to go back home and cook the meal. So, I took them along to the venue of the parents’ support group meeting and we had lunch together.
I was later able to join the meeting towards the end and got to interact with the families. We received positive feedback from the participants and the government official, too, mentioned that the meeting was a success.
Post the Parent Support Group meeting, the developments of the visit and interaction with the school supervisor were shared with the team and the Protection Officer. We also discussed how Project Udaan could intervene in the case since there was an urgent need for financial assistance. As discussed in our team meeting, in the next couple of days, I reached out to a partner organization requesting them to consider providing educational sponsorship to Ayush and also conveyed the due date for the fee payment and they agreed.
As the day was ending and I had mixed emotions. I recalled that just the day before I had written a post which was to be put on our social media page appreciating the considerate and empathetic educational institutions who have waived off the fees of the children impacted by COVID-19 and today I was dealing with a school which lacked empathy and sensitivity.
This was the moment, where I reassured myself that, yes, there are all kinds of individuals in this world!
I reflected on how education across the world has been affected adversely because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has led to hampering the classroom teaching-learning process. There have been institutes that have supported the children during their time of need and contributed towards ensuring the right to education of these children.
I must say, even though this day did not go as planned, it was spent well as it had a lot to offer me. It taught me that things won’t always go as planned and we have to be prepared and adapt as we go. Keeping calm in such situations is of utmost importance. And I believe that with empathy, understanding, and respect for each other we can make this world a better place to live in.