The Essar Foundation is based on the 3E structure — education, environment and entrepreneurship. Its initiatives among children are necessarily focused on education.
In January this year, on the occasion of the nation's 63rd Republic Day, students in the districts of Dantewada, Sukma and Jagdalpur in Chhattisgarh state and Malkangiri in Odisha state received scholarships from the Foundation. At Jagdalpur, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Dr Raman Singh, awarding the scholarships, said: "Such corporate activities contribute to the state government's initiatives to boost higher education, especially in underprivileged areas."
Around Dabuna in the tribal dominated Keonjhar District of Odisha, the Foundation has undertaken support to local schools by providing teaching and learning materials and school uniforms. Essar Steel has also extended support to annual sports events at the local schools in Dabuna and in the peripheral villages. At Purunadihi Village, about 200 students from Gupteswar High School, Indira Smruti Vidyapitha, and Camp UP School, Dabuna, gathered at the annual sports competitions under the watchful eyes of not only their teachers and parents, but also the indulgent smiles of many Essar Steel employees.
And in Jagatsinghpur District, Odisha, students of Sri Satya Sai Jnana Vikash School in Kujang Block now have a reason to smile. The school, which is the operational area of Essar Steel in Paradip, has recently been provided with a school bus for the students. This is the only school in Jagatsinghpur District that provides holistic education to children from two gram panchayats — Bhutmundai and Pankapal. The bus provides services to the children of 12 villages under the two panchayats, namely Bhutmundai, Santara, Kujang, Jagannathpur, Kothia Sahi, Sandhapur, Taladanda, Pathuria, Agapal, Bhaguathela, Bagai and Badapal.
According to the school headmaster Mr Dinabandhu Senapati, enrollment has increased from 195 students in 2010-2011 to 265 students in 2011-2012. He attributes the increased enrollment figures to the transportation facility provided by the new school bus.
Essar Steel is not restricting its involvement to donations. It has committed itself to close engagement with the school by planning for the constitution of a community-based school supervisory committee for ensuring better learning outcomes, providing educational equipment, support for extracurricular activities like music and sports, and support for teachers' training programmes.
Across the state border, other initiatives are under way. For the children at the orphanage run by Purbachal Anand Foundation at Barjora, in District Bankura, West Bengal, the Essar Projects team members (working on the Matix Fertilisers project in Durgapur) came like angels on a chilly December morning in 2011. Taking time off from work, the team members descended on the orphanage with blankets and kitchen utensils to the joy of both the children and staff at the orphanage.
And Essar employees also helped to raise funds to support the nearby centre at Durgapur, run by the Society for Handicapped Orientation Program and Education (HOPE). About 80 children with orthopaedic disabilities, autism and cerebral palsy, among other handicaps, benefit from the services and facilities available at the HOPE centre.
But one of the most interesting and creative initiatives by Essar Foundation is an experiment in social integration being tried out in western India. On the opposite coast from Odisha and Bengal, in Gujarat, an effort is under way to bridge the urban-rural divide. Essar Foundation organized a unique programme at Vadinar in December 2011. On the lines of a student exchange programme, the event had children from Essar Nand Vidya Niketan (NVN) School, Vadinar, making a trip to Timdi Village and interacting with their rural counterparts. About 150 children from the Timdi School (Classes I-VIII) and about 70 from NVN School (Classes VII and VIII), gathered in the village school to spend the day together.
The programme started with the children and teachers of NVN joining the morning assembly at Timdi, extending this to a cultural programme with varied acts presented by the children of both schools. Lunch was a simple Gujarati meal, including 'bajre ka rotla' (Indian bread made of pearl millet), 'aalu bhajji' (a dry potato dish), and 'chhaas' (buttermilk), served in typical rural style.
A Transect Walk was arranged after lunch, during which the children of NVN School went around the village with their Timdi School counterparts to understand how a village is structured, socially and physically. An inter-school cricket match among the boys, and kho-kho match among the girls rounded off the eventful day, a small effort towards bridging the urban-rural divide.