Dr Beena Rao, co-founder of Prayas has made it her life-goal to educate the underprivileged children free of cost. She never considered her social work as a favour she was doing for society. For her, she was simply following what she saw her father doing for his entire life- helping the less fortunate in his best capacity. Her father, a professional violinist, taught the instrument to blind students free of cost. Idolizing her father while growing up, it was only natural for Dr Beena Rao to also emulate him once she identified the lack of inexpensive and quality education for poor slum kids.
“I have always seen my father helping the less privileged and that inspired me. I hoped that one day I would do something that would leave a bigger impact on the lives of the underprivileged and I am glad that I managed to do so,” Rao says.
Her resolve began when she noticed that the rate of drop-outs in school was consistently high even though the govt has introduced many RTE schemes. A notable trend was that most of these drop-out children were slum dwellers who fell under the Below Poverty Line (BPL) category. She decided to discuss the matter with Mr Anil Gupta, faculty of IIM Ahmedabad and the manager of the National Innovation Foundation. They both concluded that the major reason for dropping out was the inability among many parents to continue the often expensive education. A secondary reason could be the lack of quality in govt schools, resulting in parents thinking that education would anyway be useless in the long term. The discussion led Dr Beena Rao to start Prayaas, a free coaching institute for slum-dwelling kids in Surat, Gujarat.
Along with the regular academics, Dr Beena Rao goes a mile ahead and facilitates the imparting of holistic education that includes Yoga, soft skills training, personality development, vocational skills, sports, and discipline. A student need not pay a penny. In fact, Dr Beena Rao and her husband contribute from their personal savings to fund their social ambition. One batch consists of 30 students, and with the help of 35-50 volunteers, Prayas has undertaken around 2000 kids under its wing. Dr Beena understands the lack of resources these kids have at their homes; however, she also knows the value of providing the right guidance for a young mind to explore his area of interest. Hence, without burdening the often illiterate parents with this responsibility, she started Mobile Laboratory where students with an inclination towards science are encouraged to explore. She has also conducted various workshops with the help of B.Ed students to help the kids with primary training to arouse interest and confidence in pursuing science. Such workshops have helped more than 1000 children to realize their potential and opt for a career in science.
More than these tangible achievements, it is the internal progress in children’s personality that is applause-worthy. Education is not undertaken only for the sole purpose of making a career that earns you bread; but also for developing a fine character and personality that earns you a peaceful sleep. Majority of the kids getting coached at Prayaas have seen this transformation in themselves. There was a substantial decrease in the abusive language, often the first giveaway of their slum culture. Secondly, the students started becoming disciplined and showed greater interest in academics. Dr Beena Rao, with her volunteers, also distributes free books among these students to inculcate the vital habit of reading.
India has been successfully fighting illiteracy, one of the major pullbacks for us from becoming a developed nation. Dr Beena Rao and her contribution to his mission is significant. Her story gave me this sudden realization, and I am marvelled by how simple and true this wisdom is-
“The true mark of knowledge is how well it is being shared with others!”