Meet Ratnakar Mohanty Who Is Truly The Lotus Of The Dingy Slums In Bhubaneswar!
Just as a lotus sprouts in murky and rough conditions but gradually overcomes the filthy conditions to blossom into a beautiful flower; 35-year old Ratnakar Mohanty is the lotus which has blossomed in the dingy Salia Sahi slum of Bhubaneswar. A student of Masters in Social Work, Ratnakar is the unsung hero, who is changing the lives of the children living in the slums.
Born in Kendrapara district in 1981, Ratnakar shifted to Bhubaneswar when he was 15 years old. Having lived in Salia Sahi slum for most part of his teenage life, he understood the repercussions of growing in a slum area, and therefore decided to work for the upliftment of the children in the area.
With this thought on his mind, he approached a few friends and after a series of discussions, the group decided to start their mission by imparting education to the slum children. “I realised the primary school was very far from the slum area so many children would simply not attend classes and waste their time. To begin with, I decided to start free coaching class in the slum itself and impart basic education to the children,” says Ratnakar.
After a few months, the coaching centre established an identity of its own and children from not just the slum, but also the neighbouring areas started attending it. “The numbers increased so much that we were unable to handle the children. It was then that we decided to start a school,” he says.
Establishing a school in the area was not an easy task. Besides the infrastructure and logistics issues, there was stiff resistance from the community. “Although we decided to start the school, the community members disapproved the idea. The land where the school was supposed to be built was used by the people for open defecation. After lots of persuasion, I along with my friends cleaned the area ourselves and then started the school in 2005. Today, our school, ‘Vivekananda Sikhya Kendra’ has around 500 students and 17 teaching staff,” he says.
“The school charges a nominal fee for admission and at times also gives free admission to the slum children. If needed, we also provide free books and other study materials,” says Ratnakar, who is fondly addressed as ‘Litu Sir’ by the residents in the area.
Few years after he started the school, Ratnakar realised that for overall development of the kids, the slum children had to be imparted other training besides studies. Eventually, the school started paying equal attention to co-curricular activities.
“For personality development of the children, we conduct activities to hone their talent at regular intervals in our school. We also organise a Student Exchange programme in association with the Humara Bachhpan initiative. Our children have visited Switzerland and Peru as part of the exchange programme,” he says.
To eke out a living, Ratnakar and his friends run a coaching institute named ‘Vidya,’ in Bhubaneswar for higher class students. A social worker, Ratnakar is equally concerned about the other slum dwellers and not just the children. For the overall development of people living in the slums, he organises health camps and awareness programmes at regular intervals besides conducting special camps for women and children. He also encourages the youth to donate blood and organises blood donation camps in the slum areas.
With many incidents of violence due to intoxication reported from the slums, Ratnakar offers free counselling to people to quit addiction. He is also the member of the Nasha Mukti Yuva Sankalp.
Ratnakar, is now geared up to start a mobile library service for the slum children and has already started working on it. “For a mobile library, I am raising money to purchase a battery rickshaw. Once I purchase it, I can carry a lot of books to different slums at a cheap price. Once more books reach the children, it will lead to their further development.”
“My aim is to somehow bring the slum children at par with others in the society. Since I was engaged in social work from a young age, I couldn’t give much emphasis to my studies. But, I want the children of the slums to study well and reach greater heights in life,” he signs off.