Odisha’s Devarapalli Prakash Rao is ecstatic. Contributing half his income towards the education of children of rickshaw-pullers, daily wage earners and municipal drain workers in the city was something that this 59-year-old small tea shop owner in Cuttack has been doing for the past 18 years. However, Sunday was a different day for Rao. For, his efforts for almost two decades had caught the attention of none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Addressing the 44th edition of his radio broadcast ‘Mann Ki Baat’on Sunday, PM Modi was all praise for Rao, and termed his the guardian angel for children who hail from underprivileged backgrounds. Rao has been helping over 70 slum children for the last 18 years with the earning that are an output of his shop in Buxi Bazaar area of Cuttack. He provides for the education and food of the children by spending more than 50% of his daily wages on them.
PM Narendra Modi shared a post on Twitter and said that he was delighted to meet D. Prakash Rao during his visit to Cuttack and some of the students whose lives he is transforming. Hindustan Times today reported that Rao was overwhelmed with joy when ‘PM saheb’ spoke about him on the radio. He added that he is an ordinary tea seller and earning the PM’s praise was something he had never even dreamt of.
“Yesterday, he had invited me and the children of my school before his public meeting at Baliyatra ground in Cuttack. During our 18-minute meeting, he enquired about my school like a family member. He seemed to be tense before the meeting, but he looked relaxed after meeting all of us,” Rao said.
Rao is a school dropout, but he is the one who started the ‘Asha O Ashwasana’ school in 2000. Rao took the step of starting the school after he saw the kids in his neighbourhood falling for petty crimes or becoming alcoholics. Rao’s shop was started in the 1960s by his father who was a World War II veteran. It was he who encouraged Rao to help him. While he was never encouraged by his father to pursue his studies, Rao made sure that the slum children got their share.
It took a lot of energy on Rao’s part to convince the parents to send their children to school. According to Rao, the parents though that sending their children to school would lead to one less working member for the family. But somehow, Rao was able to persuade them and now the school has classes till 3rd standard. With the help of his earnings, Rao feeds the children with milk and biscuits as midday meal besides providing them with school uniforms and chappals.