Sushila Koli, a resident of Laximinagar basti in Lat, a village in the Kolhapur district of Maharashtra, has become a symbol of hope in the village thanks to her exemplary efforts in the field of education.
A passionate believer in the importance of the education, Sushila noticed that there was no Anganwadi in the vicinity, and because of this, young children, who would have otherwise attended pre-school, had to abandon the hopes of receiving an education and would instead go to help in the fields.
Sushila decided to do something about this and opened an Anganwadi in the basti. However, no one was willing to help her, and there was very little government support as well. So, she started an Anganwadi in her home and continued to teach children there for two years. Later, the Anganwadi moved to a temple in the area.
“Initially, children would not come to the Anganwadi because the parents would take them to the fields,” says Sushila. However, she refused to let this bring her down and kept making door-to-door visits to encourage the villagers and get them on board.
Slowly, the villagers warmed up to the idea and began to send their children to the Anganwadi.
Sushila started the Anganwadi in 1991 and continued it till 2002. In the 11 years that she was a teacher, she helped more than 250 children learn the basics of education, and that too, for free!
“The kids belonged to low-income families, and there was no question of charging them any fees. Sometimes the parents would give me food grains, but I never expected any money.”
The Anganwadi was converted to a government school—Balwadi Vidya Mandir—in 2003-2004, in an area near the basti.
Sushila is also a feisty and unconventional woman. She married Baburao Koli, an agricultural labourer who was a widower and had two sons from his previous marriage.
Sushila recalls that her parents rejected the marriage proposal, but she responded by saying that she would only marry Baburao, and also take care of his children.
Baburao firmly believes that getting married to Sushila was the best decision he made because she completely turned his life around. He had to drop out of school after completing Class 4, due to financial constraints. However, he always hoped that his children would have a better life.
“I always wanted my children to pursue education and not become agricultural labourers like me. Today, everybody in the village proudly wonders how the children of a sickle holding labourer became so educated. My elder son is a teacher in the nearby village, while the younger one is an Assistant Police Inspector (API) in Thane,” he says.
Baburao and Sushila also had a child of their own, and he is a Professor of Geography in Ichalkaranji and is also pursuing his Ph.D.
Sushila proudly talks about the success of her students. “Nothing gives me more happiness than teaching other people, because education makes you independent. I urge everybody to take up this noble profession,” she says with a firm smile.