Prakash Rao, a tea-seller in Cuttack, has been changing lives of scores of slum children by not only providing them free education but also free meal. 62-year-old Prakash Rao has been a beacon of hope for around 100 children in a slum. For the last 19 years, Rao has been donating half of his income towards the running of the school. In 2019, Prakash Rao was awarded Padma Shri for his efforts to boost affordable education.
Prakash Rao was only six-years-old when he started working at his father’s tea-stall. “My father had a tea stall in Cuttack and I used to help him. I wasn’t a regular in school because of my family commitments. Despite being a bright student, I could continue my studies only till Class XI. My father fell ill and I had to run the stall and pay for his medical bills. I didn’t have the means to study. This motivated me to provide opportunities to slum kids who face similar hurdles which I had faced in my childhood.”
Unable to complete his studies because of financial difficulties, Prakash Rao now lives his dream through children living in slums, who do not have money to pay their school fees. Prakash Rao says, “I was a good student. Bright in academics, adept at football. I wanted to become a doctor but landed up becoming a chaiwala. I knew what it was like to not have any opportunities. And I did not want these kids to have the same fate.” He started the ‘Asha O Ashwasana’ school in 2000. Rao took the step of starting the school after the saw the kids in his neighbourhood falling for petty crimes or becoming alcoholics. For every cup of tea sold at his stall, he used half the amount towards the education and health of the slum kids. He first operated from his two-room thatched house, with four children, where he provided them with food and education, completely free of cost.
“Living and working in a slum, I witnessed the resistance of parents towards education first-hand. Living in their makeshift jhuggi jhopdis, they thought of their children as means of earning income. Instead of enrolling them in schools, these children were enrolled in menial labour. Working odd jobs and becoming domestic helpers, whatever money they earned was often snatched by the men in the home, who would buy alcohol and turn to domestic violence. It deeply affected me, every single day.”
The same parents who complained about education, gratefully look on as they watch their sons and daughters cycle to their colleges today. Rao provides basic level education – from kindergarten to class III for the kids at the school and later helps them to get enrolled in various government schools. “Every morning, I give time to my tea stall that’s opened between 6am and 10am. From 10am to noon, I come to my school that has around 100 students. Apart from teachers, there are a few volunteers who love to teach. In the afternoon, I again open my tea stall and work till 8pm. Every day I cook dalma for them (a preparation of dal, rice and sabji). It gives me immense joy to see them relish the home-cooked meal that is high in nutrition.
Prakash Rao’s house was damaged when cyclone Fani hit Odisha on May 3rd. However, this didn’t deter his efforts to feed and educate the 100 children at his school. He is struggling with the lack of funds to pay the teachers at the school. Your help can ensure that his dream of providing a quality life to the slum children stays alive.