Sawant’s journey began in 1972 when she was at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi with her research scholar husband. “During the holidays, I saw many children playing in the hot sun. That’s when I decided to help these children utilise their time constructively. Since I had graduated in Chemistry and Maths was my favourite subject, I decided to teach the children Maths and English using stories and puzzles,” says Sawant.
Sawant then moved to Aurangabad when her husband got a job at the Aurangabad University. In 1984, Aurangabad and other parts of Maharashtra were affected by drought. At that time, the armed forces had advertised vacancies for entry level posts and many youngsters from peasant families wanted to apply. However, they could do so only if they passed a competitive entrance exam and English was compulsory. A colonel contacted Sawant and requested her to help these youngsters. “All the boys passed,” recalls Sawant. “They came to me with a box and sweets and told me that whichever part of the world they may be, they will never forget me. Till today they come to my house and visit me,” she exclaims.
Sawant and her family moved to Mumbai in 1988. Since then she has been teaching Maths, English and Moral Lessons as a volunteer. “Education is a must, a degree is not necessary and that’s why I did not study B.Ed. and become a professional teacher,” says Sawant. “My husband has done a Ph.D. and my two daughters are currently pursuing their Ph.D. degrees. I am the least educated in my house,” she exclaims.
In 1995, while teaching science to students at a municipal school, she had to use a projector. That’s when she realised that only sighted people would benefit from slide display and not the visually impaired. She then went to Vikas Shorewalla, a visually impaired person who taught her Braille and within the next few months, she started teaching maths at the National Association for the Blind. Today, Sawant can read English, Hindi and Marathi in Braille. Sawant learnt to read Braille and Morse Code at the age of 53.
Sawant takes pride in using innovative methods of teaching her children. She teaches children how to make litmus papers using flowers and demonstrates the solar system with the help of fruits. Sawant does not use a blackboard while teaching. “I don’t believe in showing my back to the class,” she exclaims. While teaching the children, they all sit in a circle.
For the last 40 years, Sawant has taught many children but she has done all of this free as she has never had a job in her entire life and therefore never felt the need to charge anybody for her service. I have taught children belonging to all classes of society. Parents of privileged children have offered to pay her for her teaching but she doesn’t take the money. “Children are children after all. It’s not their fault if they are rich or poor,” says Sawant.
Currently Sawant teaches Maths and Science in English, Hindi and Marathi to underprivileged children at Baljivan Trust near her residence at Santa Cruz. She spends three to four hours a day on volunteering. “I don’t waste my time watching movies or going to hotels. Time is in my hands, my hand is not in time,” exclaims Sawant.
Sawant takes pride in the fact that at the age of 63, she has no health complains. “All my worries and tiredness vanishes when I am amongst children,” says Sawant.