Innovator: Hasmukh Bhai
Location: Mandangad, Maharashtra
When I met my latest ‘parinda’ and understood his work, I became nostalgic about my childhood and youth. It was the phase I was the happiest in life. It was the time when we wanted to go out with our parents to a park and not a mall. It was the time I would spend hours outside, playing with my friends. We would climb the hills outside the city, take a stroll in the nearby forests and take a dip in the rivers and ponds. However, our life could not always be like this. Soon, the wind in the air changed and the pressure of books and exams increased. With modern development changing the look of our surroundings every day, soon there wasn’t much natural space left where we could learn and play.
Today, we’re stuck and our lives seem wasted in the web of television and Internet. I believe it is a misconception that the Internet enables communication. In fact, the Internet kills any room of personal communication.
In the 1980s, Harvard biologist Edward O Wilson proposed a theory called Biophilia. Wilson had said that humans are instinctively attracted to their natural surroundings, and try to learn from it. However, looking at the children of the 21st century, several things come to my mind that question Wilson’s theory. Today, children spend so much time glued to their television or computer screens that it has become a matter of serious concern. Psychologists have termed this tendency of staying indoors, which is resulting in wide range of behavioural problems, of the children Nature Deficit Disorder. It cannot be denied that a child spends much more time inside the house today than outside. Adding to that, according to a research, an average Indian kid spends about seven hours a day in front of the television.
Hasmukh Bhai returned to India from America with a dream in his eyes. He wanted to set up a place in India where orphans could be provided good upbringing and better education. Being an orphan himself, he understood very well what difficulties an orphan had to face while growing up. The struggle for a daily meal was an everyday challenge for him as a child. In a situation like this, sound education seemed like a distant dream. However, he struggled hard and put in all his effort to finally reach a stage where he had every comfort of life. Throughout, he didn’t lose focus on his dream to set up a place for orphans in India.
In 2008 when recession hit the United States, Hasmukh Bhai lost 90 per cent of his savings after a friend of his cheated him but the remaining savings were enough to start work on his dream. Instead of working towards covering his financial loss, Hasmukh Bhai returned to India.
“I realised that if there was something I really wanted to do, it had to be now,” he said.
This was six years ago.
Initially, he had thought he would live with the orphans and enroll them at a government school but then he decided to understand the education system better first. For this, he took up a teaching job at a school near Mandangarh in Maharashtra. There, he realised that education that was supposed to help children build a better future was actually ruining their lives. Children were merely reading from a book in a closed room and not experiencing any of it. Nothing that they were “learning” could be used in their lives.
“Our education system is human-centric but what we need is an all-inclusive system that involves humans, nature and the universe. Only then can our education system be called complete and holistic. Until we step outside our four walls, take a look at things around us and feel our surroundings, we will neither develop curiosity nor will we question anything,” Hasmukh Bhai said. “If we don’t question, we won’t get answers. We’ll just be running like everybody else in a race, not knowing where our finish line is.”
We want our children to step out of their homes, climb the hills, swim in the river, run in the field. We want them to sit on the floor instead of the couch. We want them to observe the world around them, understand it, love it and learn from it. Unfortunately, we’re living in a time when a lot of children are going through depression and despair. They don’t care about the trees that are being felled for their books or the damage that is being caused deep underground to extract fuel to run their school buses. They don’t care where their food comes from, who grows it or how it is grown.
To change this attitude of the children, Hasmukh Bhai has led several initiatives. He often takes children to the forests, on top of hills and into the fields. He works with children and youth of all age groups, inculcating him them habits that promote conscious living.
“While working with the children when we see satisfaction in their eyes or a smile on their lips, it gives me immense joy. When I see children, who had been living in fear within the four walls until now, playing in the mud with confidence, I understand the significance of my work. Efforts like these have been helping me fulfill a dream that I brought with me six years ago,” he adds.
In June this year, Hasmukh Bhai will start a learning centre for the children.