“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”- Colin Powell
This quote by Colin Powell is a perfect portrayal of the life and struggles of Tulasi Munda. She was born as the youngest child of poor parents in Serenda, a small village of Adivasis, more than 350 km away from Bhubaneshwar. However, nothing could stop her from being independent and exhibiting an unconventional thinking right from an early age. Her birth just a month shy of India’s independence from foreign oppression allowed her the freedom to dream and aspire to realise those dreams!
She craved knowledge and was constantly looking out for new methods to acquire it. Like a sponge, she soaked in every little bit that came her way and kept yearning for more. Unfortunately, the lack of proper schools in her area was a big deterrent to her aspirations and it seemed that her life would be spent in the little hamlet that she was born in. However, destiny had much in store for her! Her dreams took wings when she went to live with her sister at the tender age of 12.
Young Tulasi worked hard week after week cutting stones and sifting waste for iron to earn a ‘princely’ sum of two rupees every week. In her limited free time, she taught herself to read and write. Her determination to study and realise her dream kept her going despite all odds. It was this determination that makes her the person she is today.
Eminent social workers like Vinobha Bhave, Nirmala Deshpande, Malti Chaudhury and Roma Devi were all impressed by her determination. Their selfless determination had a major influence on her thinking and shaped her purpose in life. Her lack of education and struggles to realise her dream strengthened her resolve to fight illiteracy. Having found her calling in life, Tulasi Munda returned to her village in Serenda to combat illiteracy head on.
She is a true epitome of practicing what she preaches- “Be the Change you want to see”. She understood that the root cause of all evil like unemployment, poverty, superstition, fear and drunkenness was illiteracy.
She saw education as the light that would brighten up the lives of the villagers. Yet, she found opposition from the least expected source- her fellow villagers. It was Tulasi Munda’s persuasive skills that convinced the village headman to let her use his verandah to teach the children.
What started off as a trickle grew into a roaring river. The movement that began with 30 odd children learning numbers and alphabets in 1964 has now successfully educated over 20,000 children.
Her unique and unconventional thinking is reflected in the manner she advocates education. She strongly feels that the present education system and thinking only shackle us rather than set us free!
Her work as an educationalist earned her the recognition of the Indian Government, who awarded her with the Padma Shri in 2001. The Odisha government bestowed the Living legend Award for Excellence in Social Service on Tulasi Munda for her dedication and determination.
Rather than rest on her laurels, she continues to work among her beloved Adivasis and strives to help them enjoy a higher standard of living without fear and oppression.