Text and Photographs by Mrudula P
On October 6, 2018, the M-Power Study Centre and Library, a community centre for skill building and education in M-East Ward Deonar, celebrated its first anniversary. The spacious, red-tile roof structure was dressed up in festoons, balloons and streamers for the occasion, but it was the beautiful flower carpet at the entrance that caught my attention. I could feel the excitement among many of the organisers who had worked very hard over the past one year to make this centre a success.
The M-East ward is one of Mumbai’s poorest areas. Its human development index is the lowest in the city with an infant mortality rate of around 66.47 per thousand live births. According to the 2011 Census, while Mumbai’s average literacy rate was 89.21 per cent, the literacy rate of M-East ward was an abysmal 21 per cent. A study conducted in 2015 found that only 4.5 per cent of the ward’s residents were graduates. The M-Power Study Centre and Library hopes to change this by providing access to education and resources.
The ward is also the immediate neighbourhood of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, and the institute has had long-standing relationships with the residents and community organisations of the area. On the occasion of its Platinum Jubilee year, TISS initiated the ‘Transforming M-Ward’ project that aimed at building strategic partnerships with organisations, the government and residents for the transformation of the human development conditions in the ward. In September 2017, the M-Power Study Centre and Library was launched under the Transforming M-Ward Project, in collaboration with the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), to encourage children and youth to continue education and learn vocational skills. Today, it also functions as a community space where residents gather, learn new skills, read, make conversations and explore new possibilities.
At the one-year celebration ceremony, Dr Amita Bhide, Dean School of Habitat Studies, TISS, shared the apprehensions she had before executing such an ambitious initiative. “In 2017, Transforming M-ward Project received a letter from Municipal Commissioner asking whether we would be willing to manage a space like this, I had a discussion with the Centre’s faculty members and it led to this idea,” she said. “We wrote a letter to Dr Parasuraman (former Director of TISS, Mumbai) with no detailed explanations of this project, and he immediately extended his support. I was confused about where will the money come from, how will we appoint staff. We even wondered would it be like a white elephant which looks beautiful from the outside but does not serve any purpose. Today, I’d like to give people of the community credit for its success. They have adopted it wholeheartedly,” she added.
“It is important to empower everybody as a community and aid them to aspire for bigger dreams”, said Sabah Khan, Project Coordinator of the M-power Study Centre and Library, at the ceremony.
Today, multiple organisations work within the premises to empower the community. The centre has laptops with pre-programmed software that facilitate building conceptual foundations in mathematics and science. The initiative is run by Connected Learning Initiative (CLIx), a joint venture of TATA Trusts, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The centre also has English Speaking programmes by Teach India, it houses CUBE Biology Lab in association with Homi Bhabha Centre for Science and Education, and a library and IAS career guidance centre in association with Dharam Bharati Mission.
Kiran Dighavkar, Asst Commissioner of A-Ward said, “I am hoping to see children of the ward become collectors, IAS officers, doctors, CAs and professionals in any field they dream of someday.” At the ceremony, the M-Power centre also felicitated dignitaries who aided its implementation and community volunteers who have made the M-power library. The evening concluded with a play enacted by the students from the study centre. The play’s theme revolved around a day at M-Power library and study centre, which showed what this space has come to mean to different people.
“I dropped out of school a year ago and joined the M-Power study centre. I was not familiar with anyone here, but eventually, I started liking this place. Now I have new friends here. Also, my school friends who dropped out of school like me are also coming here to attend classes. I have realized that if I study more I can also pursue my higher education from an institute like TISS or maybe from much bigger institutes,” said Saifullah, an eighth standard student, with a smile.