The transformational journey of a community, and Jai Mishra, the man behind it all.
If he ever wrote a book he would call it, "Quest for Radiance: A Personal Odyssey".
That pretty much sums it up, for he who searches for light along the way paves the path for others to find it. Jai Mishra, a TFI alumni and the co-founder of Ummeed Community Centre, has started the spark for change here at Vadgaon Budruk. With the ultimate goal of enabling families to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, Ummeed educates and empowers kids. It’s the birthplace for revolutionary ideas and leaders. Here’s to a decade of teaching, learning, inspiring, evolving, and building a community.
Coming from an underprivileged community Jai wanted to empower kids like himself to rise to their potential. He joined Shevantabai Dangat Patil PMC school in Vadgaon, Pune as a Teach for India fellow in 2013. Jai worked relentlessly towards the shared vision - One day all children will attain an excellent education. In his first year he taught from 7AM to 7PM for 280 days compared to the PMC norm of 7AM to 12PM for 220 days.
It is his ability to understand and empathize with the students along with his unique approach that helps build the bond of trust. In an interview, Jai narrates the story of a kid who would rarely come to school. When asked why he told Jai school is boring and more importantly he feels sleepy in the morning. An agreement was made, the kid would sleep for the first two hours in class and would attend classes after lunch.
This continued for 2 months. After which there was a test and the kid rocked it! He came to Jai and told him, “Bhaiya, I can achieve so much by just concentrating for two hours.”
Jai replied, “Imagine, what you can do with 4.”
What next, the kid began attending school regularly.
He also helped form the School Management Committee (SMCs) called ‘SAMVAAD’. They prepared a full fledged school development plan that allowed them to start 7th and 8th grade in the school. He has always been there and continues to be there for the kids in times of need.
After his fellowship, in 2016, Jai started Ummeed as an after learning space. In this one room accommodation, 10th graders would come together and study. As time passed the idea of Ummeed evolved. As Jai puts it, “Ummeed is our KHWAAB-GHAR. A home, a family, built on the foundation of love and passion for change. A family that has grown and become stronger. We envision and work hard to chase our dreams.” Multiple initiatives like Funscool, Akshar, Project Khwaab, Maitri Cafe and India in Search of Fraternity have been born out of this place.
Akshar formerly known as Agstak is an after school program to support children academically. This program is entirely run by student volunteers of the community. Jai firmly believes that only a student can think like a student and therefore knows the best way to teach a student. He is absolutely right! Akshar has set a benchmark for its quality education and proven this through the board results of their students
“In the last 4 years our students have outperformed others,” says Jai. And this is not even the best part. The first batch of students become educators for the next batch, it's a chain. Ummeed has engraved the value of ‘seva’ amongst its students and they know what it means to give back to their community.
Funscool is a summer program, by the kids for the kids. It is an initiative by teenagers, an attempt to build their dream schools. Funscool provides kids exposure to various extracurricular activities while nurturing values and life skills within them. It all started when Ayush Pandit, the founder of Funscool, expressed his concern about how school had limited his experience and there were little to no opportunities for activities like sports, art and craft, dance, drama, etc, to Jai.
Funscool started in 2018, with 9 student volunteers and Jai as their project mentor, now Funscool 4.0 is a team of 27 volunteers, reaching more than 90 students. Jai doesn't tell his students what to do or how to do it. He equips them with compassion, courage, and strength so they can figure out what needs to be done and how! He lets his students lead. Through his trust and support he shows that kids can create change.
India in Search of Fraternity, an experiment, originated when the country was going through a rough patch of time during the NRC and CAA.
“Everyone in the country was talking about justice, liberty and equality. We realized our understanding of Fraternity does not exist and we have limited or almost no idea of it. We decided to explore this idea with the help of the community and hence we designed an experiment to explore what fraternity means to us and to the people around us,” explains Jai.
So far 6 such experiments have been conducted and over hundreds of guests have joined. Each time the idea of fraternity and the notion of India as a nation evolves.
Khwaab, the most recent initiative, is a chance for the mothers of the community to fulfill their dreams. It is a livelihood training program along with other skills. It’s a fight, a tension between reality and vision, but here is where RƎVO⅃UTION begins.
“Ummeed is a space which is purely built with love and empathy. It has been built with the community and not for the community.”
Doing all this has been challenging. Adapting to change has not been easy, in fact mostly difficult. It has been painful and time consuming but the center has evolved. During this time it's our beliefs and values that keep us going.
Here is what Jai has to say,
"It's Love which I believe in and courage which is required to change our current reality. I believe in every kid and feel that if they get the right opportunity, they will be able to break the chain of poverty. Love is important and it's needed."
An idea which has helped Jai in his incredible journey: “Our communities have many problems but remember they are beautiful in their own ways. Try to find out the goodness in people and work from there. Listen, Listen, Listen. Listening is Love and it helps you build bonds with people.”
This is for you, Jai Bhaiya, for you are in essence the human I wish to be - Zeenat
Written by Zeenat Shaikh