This post has been self-published on Youth Ki Awaaz by Ayush Mehta. Just like them, anyone can publish on Youth Ki Awaaz.

Meet The Man Who Left His Lavish Dubai Job To Teach Kids On Gujarat’s Footpaths

I write this from Ahmedabad where I am visiting my family.

Today, I had the good fortune of acquainting myself with Virat Shah, the founder of Sarvodaya Footpath School.

Virat Shah claims to operate eight schools on the footpaths of Ahmedabad, which provide basic education to over 250 kids, aged 5-14 years. His schools are no bigger than a store room and comprise a maximum of 25 children each. His campus – the humble footpath.

As my eyes were treated to the sight of neatly arranged black school shoes outside the classroom, and linearly laid down water bottles in one corner of the classroom, I knew that discipline was an essential cornerstone of Shah’s education policy.

Shah’s journey started in 2010, when he left his lavish job in Dubai and returned to India with an intent to look for opportunities to provide education to underprivileged children.

On one such occasion in 2012, he spoke to children from the local municipality school and realised that those studying in primary school were unable to read and write. Considering the quality of education in our government schools and an undying resolve to provide a more useful education to these children, he opened his first ‘footpath school’ in Isanpur in September 2012.

The idea for the set up of his school stemmed from the reluctance of parents to send their children to a far off place to study. His first school was set up on a footpath with a strength of 10 children and this laid the foundation of greater things to come.

Image Credit: Sarvodaya Group Footpath School via Facebook

An instrumentation and control engineer by profession, and currently pursuing a degree in law, Shah has been an inspiration to me ever since I happened to read about him in a magazine article a few months ago. I had immediately bookmarked it on my phone and made a mental note to meet him and see his magnificent work one day.

Once in Ahmedabad, I contacted Shah and requested him for a chance to see his unconventional schools. He gaily agreed and invited me to Vatva, Ahmedabad, the next day. For so long, I had been yearning to interact with him, but now that I had a chance to do so, I was absolutely perplexed, wondering what I would actually ask him.

And hence, the following morning, after travelling a distance of 12 km in the sweltering summer heat of Ahmedabad, I finally found myself in one of his schools located near Sadbhavnagar police chowki in Vatva, and was greeted by the man himself.

He diligently showed me around his 15 by 10 single classroom school which had no boundaries. He explained to me in great detail about the overall functioning and daily schedule of his schools.

He also enumerated the several difficulties he has to deal with on a day to day basis in pursuit of his passion which ranged from convincing parents to enrol their children in school, attendance problems, hygiene issues, as well as maintaining a pluralistic class where every student is welcome irrespective of caste, creed or gender.

One of the most striking features of his schools was the proportion of female students to male students. Shah was smiling ear to ear as he proudly stated that 60% of his students are girls. A very commendable achievement, indeed.

Shah requested another teacher to take the 11 am class on his behalf so that he could give me some more time and take me to his schools. I was humbled and grateful.

He then accompanied me to other schools, and at each of them, we were greeted with cheerful kids enthusiastically blaring out, “Good morning, sir,” in coherent unison, bringing back sweet memories from my school days.

Each classroom was filled with chattering kids, with slates in the hands for the freshers (children who can’t write alphabets or basic numerical), and small notebooks for those equipped with basic skills. A few were learning words in English as well and it was truly a heartening sight. Shah also proudly showed me the makeshift shades which he had recently got constructed.

I was also given a tour of another school in a business complex, which held specialised classes for kids in Maths, Gujarati and English, for those who had learned reading and writing in Gujarati, Hindi, basic English as well as numbers, at the various footpath school centres. The one room school consisted of tables and benches along with a white board and a drinking water tank, bringing it at par with some private school classrooms. Shah and the Footpath School plan to provide such facilities to more and more students in the future.

As mentioned before, Shah lays a lot of emphasis on discipline and attendance in his schools. The education methodology and curriculum are carefully curated by him and are based on the same ideology of ensuring regular attendance. 

  • The bonus of the paid staff is dependent on the attendance of the students.
  • Further, children with regular attendance are rewarded with a health kit comprising of hair oil, brush, soap, etc.
  • Parents were also held accountable in the case of absence of their wards, and were required to sign in the records with an explanation for the same.
  • To ensure attendance and encourage healthy eating habits, Shah also provides food to the kids.

Shah went on to explain that he organises debate, storytelling, dance and yoga classes, as well as competitions for the kids to ensure that they receive a well-rounded education. Computers and projector were also available at the disposal of the school to aid conventional teaching methods in their pursuit to impart quality education to students.

I was pleasantly surprised to see Shah’s daughters – Aparna and Partitha – assisting the teachers at the school in the teaching process.

Shah adds that his schools are unconventional but a viable model to provide basic education to kids at a place which is transparent, inexpensive and convenient. I personally found his schools beautiful with a flavour unmatched to any international school.

Starting with a humble strength of 10 kids in one school to over 250 kids at eight schools, coupled with three volunteers and several paid teachers in a span of three years, Shah has surely come a long way.

However, this great man is not satisfied. His vision is to open a school dedicated solely to imparting free of cost education to children from economically backwards sections of society.

As he shared his vision with me, my beautiful time at the chain of ‘footpath schools’ came to an end. It was a pleasure meeting Shah and it is my personal recommendation to every person who visits Ahmedabad to visit one of his schools. They can have a glimpse into the amount of dedicated and selfless effort Shah and his teachers put in to equip our future generations with the power of knowledge. It was undeniably the most enriching experience I’ve had in my life.

You must be to comment.

More from Ayush Mehta

Similar Posts

By Asmaa Philip

By isha sharma

By Dr. Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar

Wondering what to write about?

Here are some topics to get you started

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

Share your details to download the report.









We promise not to spam or send irrelevant information.

A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

Sign up for the Youth Ki Awaaz Prime Ministerial Brief below