A Labour Of Love

  • Shilpy Arora / FG
  • India
  • Sep 28, 2012

Aarti, 16, hails from a small village of Uttaranchal. At a tender age of 12 years her alcoholic father wanted her to get married to a local guy. However, she was fortunate  to catch the attention of a social worker, Shilpa Sonal, who brought her to Nirvana. Along with education and food, she offered Aarti some remuneration, for her to win the confidence of her father. Today Aarti studies in 10th standard and scores good marks every year. She aspires to be a poet. Her two siblings also study in her school.

Like Aarti, many children have found a second home in Bagiya. Situated amidst tall buildings and big condominiums, Bagiya is a small school situated in the basement of an apartment in Nirvana. The founder of Bagiya, Shilpa Sonal, finds joy in educating the children of labourers, an oft-neglected segment of society. “We provide the right atmosphere for an all-round development of the under-privileged children,” says Shilpa. 

A mother of three, Shilpa looked up to her husband as an inspiration. He was a commando in the Indian Army, and she picked up her lessons on humanity and compassion from him. She believes that imparting education to children is the only way to ensure a happy and meaningful life for them. With this mission she established Bagiya in 2007.

Most of the children at Bagiya are from the nearby construction sites. “More than half of Gurgaon is under construction. We see malls and world-class infrastructure as a symbol of growth. However, children at these construction sites always remain uneducated, and have to take up the same profession when they grow up. I think that this segment has been neglected for several years. We have to bring them into the mainstream through education, while making them aware about the job opportunities available in the City,” says Shilpa. 

With over 20 volunteers, the aim of the School is to mainstream as many children as possible. “Every year we mainstream at least 50 children to the schools such as DPS Shiksha Kendra, Pallavanjali, and Shikshantar. We have children who score better than the regular children studying in these schools,’ says a Project Head, Mamta.

Not just studies

Bagiya not only provides education to the children of the construction workers, but sports training and training in other extra-curricular activities is also given to the children. Putting forth an example of four boys who made it the renowned Acropolis Tennis Academy, Shilpa says, “Keeping their individual interests in mind, we tie up with sports academies and other activity centres.” Likewise, a Kathak Dancer, Jayshree Acharya, who lives in South City II, imparts lessons of classical dance to the students of Bagiya. 

Shilpa takes pride in showing off the awards and certificates won by those students of Bagiya who have been mainstreamed to the bigger schools. She is all praise for the volunteers, particularly the rural women who come from far-off villages to work for the cause. “We are blessed with a supportive staff. We have few teachers who travel more than 30 km to teach these underprivileged kids. They have a zeal to do something for society”, smiles Shilpa. Apart from the volunteers, she calls upon doctors, teachers, artists, and sportsperson to volunteer their services, even if it is only on a weekly or a monthly basis.

Future plans

She plans to have a ‘Bagiya’ in each village in and around Gurgaon. “Look at a small village like Jharsa. It is surrounded by world-class infrastructure, with Medanta on one side and Unitech Cyber Park on the other. However, if you go to the village, the public meetings still take place at a ‘kacha’ Chaupal. Isn’t it sad? There is an immediate need to have better schools and vocational training centres in such villages.” Shilpa believes that her focus and dedicated effort towards education for the children will certainly reap good results.

And now, a determined and confident team of 20 volunteers will take forth her dream, by opening a school in Noida, and a vocational training centre for women, in Jharsa


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