Submitted by alvin on Thu, 2016-05-26 10:52 India’s remote corners now and then throw-up heroic tales of individuals transcending their impoverished environment, and the story of Naveen Kumar belongs in that category. Naveen was just 12 when he invented an eco-friendly, cost-effective mechanism to cook food. Using raw materials such as toasted coconut shells, cellulose lime powder, and arg cryst powder, Naveen’s invention went on to win a national award from the Ministry of Science and Technology. What makes Naveen’s story all the more remarkable is that he was a child labourer earlier. Hailing from Madanpalli in Andhra Pradesh and born to poor parents, Naveen was in fourth standard when he had to drop out of school and work at a tea stall to complement his father’s meagre income. His family did not own a proper house or have a steady source of income. Naveen’s father, who sold vegetables on the street, refused to send him to school as he would lose the additional income Naveen earned. It was at this critical moment that People’s Organization for Rural Development (PORD), a project by CRY, an NGO working for marginalised children, came into the picture. The NGO identified him and his family as part of their social work. But convincing his parents to send him to school was not an easy task. The incentives in the form of mid-day meals, free books and free uniform could not make his parents relent from their decision send him to school. Even though they were aware that child labour was a crime, his parents refuse to budge from their decision. The PORD team approached the sarpanch and only after the latter agreed to approve their self- employment loan that his parents finally relented and Naveen was re-enrolled back in 5th class in Eswaramma colony UP school on August 2013 along with his younger brother who had dropped out as well. As promised, the sarpanch approved a loan of Rs 25000 for Naveen’s father’s vegetable business and his family also received an Aadhar card and ration card. It was at school that Naveen started participating in child collective meetings. He became a part of the cultural team, gained exposure, confidence and leadership skills. It gave him an opportunity to explore which ultimately led him to participate in the science exhibition. He started identifying the issues that schools faced. One topic which got his attention was pollution. “I realised that the method the school authorities used for cooking mid-day meals in the school caused pollution and was not favourable for the environment. Hence, I wanted to find a way through which this pollution could be minimised,” says Naveen. And thus he started working on his project. With the help of his school teachers at Eswaramma colony UP school and PORD team, he participated in an exhibition conducted by the District Educational department in 2015. Out of the 450 projects that were displayed, only 70 projects were selected for the state-level competition. And one belonged to Naveen. He qualified for the national-level competition conducted at Delhi and was one among the five winners. Naveen’s invention is now being used in many schools, including his own, to prepare mid-day meals. The success has truly changed Naveen and his family’s life. His mother has joined a self-help group and now works at a bakery. When asked about the future, Naveen says he wants to become an engineer and help poor children improve their skills.