Our philanthropic journey began in the year 2008 in the village Jagiri in South Gujarat with the aim to educate and uplift fellow tribal neighbours. I am Babal Gadar and I was a sponsored child. I am from the remote village of Jagiri, in the mountainous region in South Gujarat. I was able to go to school because one Good Samaritan family helped sponsor me. Their big-heartedness helped me be the first one to go to school from my household and became the first graduate from my village. As I matured, I realized my friends from the villages around me were not so fortunate and could not go to school. Gradually I started thinking of my circumstances and eventually got the inspiration to start a school for my fellow tribal kids. I also recognized the need of an orphanage for homeless or abandoned children from the neighborhood.
I come from the Warli tribe in the Dangs region. Along with Warlis, there are Kunbi and Bhil tribal communities in Dangs region - that consists of Dangs, Valsad, Navsari, and Silvassa. All together, they are known as Dangis’. Dangi (common identity for tribal communities living in the Dangs). People here are still largely dependent on farming for their livelihood, now that the forests they depended on for their sustenance have largely disappeared. Almost all of them are farmers with limited plots of land. Most of them have never gone to school, so it’s no surprise that 80% of them are still illiterate. To change this scenario, along with my wife Sheetal, I founded the organization -HEM so that my fellow “Dangis” could be educated and would have a fair shot at joining the mainstream. To achieve this, we believe we should provide them with an English Medium Education, knowing that English is an essential language skill in India and beyond!
We started a modest school in my father’s kutcha house in 2008, with 35 children and 1 teacher. Initially, we had to go door-to-door to convince people to send their children to school. There was reluctance, as the villagers preferred their kids earn a few rupees working in the carpet-making home-industry rather than send them to school. Slowly they realize the importance of education and more kids enroll, especially girls. Today, there are approximately 231 in three locations. In Jagiri school we have 197 students, and of these, 160 kids are housed in a simple onsite hostel facility. There are 94 orphaned kids, for whom, HEM is the only home they know. 60% of our school children are first generation school goers. Apart from our school and hostel in Jagiri, we also have one hostel in Surat for 23 high school boys and a hostel in Valsad for 9 high school girls. Over the years HEM has trained over 600 youth in basic computer and basic English courses and has run adult literacy classes for 1134 adults so far.
I could not have achieved my dream without wholehearted and unwavering support of Sheetal. She has taken on the responsibilities of management, finance, administration and HR, and has been critical in promoting women-issues and good hygiene at the school and among the villages. Some old customs are tough on women here but we are slowly chipping away at the undesirable habits and look forward to better lives for the girls at our school.