Scores of children in the small village of Biladi in Nandurbar district stare with disbelief at an unusual sight unfolding daily in their neighbourhood.
Around 9 am onwards, the Biladi Zilla Parishad Primary School Principal Sachin Patki sheds his tough demeanour and ‘school-headmaster’ attitude to walk up and mingle freely with the villagers, comprising mostly farmers or daily labourers, to create awareness about the Covid-19 vaccination.
For this, Principal Patki slips into a new fancy attire daily in different areas, goes around singing, dancing, reciting folk-tales, hymns, poems and attempts to remove misconceptions about the Covid-19 pandemic and the life-saver vaccination jabs that have reached the village of 1,750.
“I don our schoolteachers’ uniform, or self-stitched costumes of Lord Shiva with a damru and a club, a Policeman, a Doctor, Lord Vasudeo (Sage Naradmuni, with a pair of ‘khartals’), etc., to lure the people and make them feel more comfortable among familiar Hindu gods and the frontline workers,” smiles Patki.
The 42-year academician devotes around 30-45 mintues in each area, speaks about the Covid protocols like physical distancing, sporting face-masks, washing hands often, hygiene, and the need to get inoculated, etc. to the wide-eyed parents and villagefolk who gather, of course, at a safe range.
“I am accompanied by my two teachers – Shantaram Wadile and Smita Budhe While I convey the messages in an entertaining style, they distribute around 40-50 masks, soaps or handwashes to the crowds to drive home the importance of following Covid-appropriate behavior,” Patiki said.
The idea dawned on Patki a couple of weeks ago after hearing how medical or social workers and aanganwadi staff were hounded out by the villagers when they went to conduct Covid-19 tests or register them for vaccination.
“Most villagers slammed doors shut, those in the fields would scoot from the volunteers, others would surround and abuse them, at times there were minor fisticuffs after which the perplexed workers retreated,” he recalled.
The ZP school, now a temporary quarantine-cum-innoculation centre, is manned by two other teachers – Sarla Patil and Sachin Bagal who killed hours of boredom on the designated ‘Vaccination Thursdays’ with barely a handful of villagers turning up for the jab.
Last month, only 35 sceptics turned up for the dose, but after Patki’s public awareness drive, it shot up to 100 the next week and last Thursday notched a record 140 people queing up for their jabs.
“My small campaign has apparently clicked The simple folks have lot of misconceptions They apprehend illnesses, some short-term or permanent handicap or even death ! I gently try to erase all their doubts and convince them to go for the life-saver jab ” said Patki, sounding relieved.
In Biladi, he touches around 25 families daily in his two-hour long ‘road-shows’ and buoyed by the response, took it even to the adjoining Bankheda village (1,500 pop.) too.
On an average, Patki who also works as a part-time Hindu priest and revered as ‘Brahmin Sir’ – spends around Rs 5,000 each month from his pocket toward the ‘extra-curricular social activities’ for his 110-school kids who hail from economically weaker sections But he desires to do even more for them.
“We need a good library, a book bank, a computer lab with at least 25 computers, etc. for the children to keep apace with modern technological advancements, but resources are a big constraint,” he rued.
Undeterred, last year, Patki embarked on a unique venture taking the classroom to the students’ doorstep, at the height of the lockdown, when all schools were shut down, vide his “Shikshan Rath”.
“I installed a 42-inch TV set on my personal car, put up educational banners and posters and drove down to one locality daily The children would step out of their home, attend my doorstep classes with videos of different subjects, and return. Their academic sessions were undisturbed, and they enjoyed classes without the anxiety of online classes, erratic Internet connectivity or fat phone bills,” Patki explained.
Though his family comprising mother Mangala, wife Harshada and 9-year old twins Nidhi and Navanya frown at his magnimity, Patki has earned accolades from the village authorities, the Collector Dr. Rajendra Bharud, and state-level officialdom, but he shrugs if off: “I am merely doing my duty!”
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)