While most people set off to take their retirement at 64, he packed his bags, bid adieu to his daughter in France and flew down to India. His mission? Teaching underprivileged girls in the slums of Mumbai in India. Now 90 years old, he has spent around 26 years in Mumbai, India.
Pierre Péan, a retired Frenchman, used to work as a travel agent in France. All dressed up in his white safari suit, he walks into our office just fit and fine, unlike any 90-year-old. Even at this age, he prefers travelling by himself throughout India. “I’ve visited Puducherry, Delhi, Agra, Calcutta, Jaipur, Kerala, and Kashmir,” he pauses as he thinks of other places and is quick to mention “And yeah, I forgot Goa of course.”
As the travel craze is still alive in him, we ask him about his jump from being a travel agent to someone who runs an NGO. Founder of the Franco-Indian trust for Education, Pierre gave up his life in France to give these little angels a better one. He is enthralled as we talk to him about his commendable work in the field of education. He hands over a well-maintained portfolio of the work he has been doing for the betterment of girls.
As we skim through the pages, we can just imagine the amount of effort that this man has put into his initiative. That too, with a selfless motive. Having got an easy start with funding enough for him to open four schools, motivated him to do better.
Going a little back in time, he talks about one of his meetings with an Indian friend. An invite to India made him see the plight of a 10-year-old Indian girl. She worked as a maid in the age of going to school. It shook him. He decided he wanted to do something for her then and there. Making sure her education was funded by Pean, he left India only to return in 1992.
With him speaking French and English, and the slum children speaking Marathi and Hindi, language played a barrier. He recalls how the children still made an effort to converse in English. So you must be wondering how did he start? He hired around seven teachers who knew local languages.
Continuing his story he mentions about the first school he opened in Bandra in 1993. Not only did the school offer English language training, but also henna design training, computer training, embroidery, typewriting and tailoring. Soon with the help of recognition that he got, he successfully opened four schools. Over the years, he was successful in opening schools around Bandra, Malad and Kandivali.
However, fate had it all, and as the funding began to dry, schools began to shut. “It was at this time when the soft toys made by my students helped me. I sold them and gathered whatever funds I could, to give them a better standard of living,” he recalls. It wasn’t an easy journey, he wasn’t supposed to take it, but he chose to. Such is his selfless nature that deserves applause.
Even in such a situation when any individual would give up, he stood strong. When the schools were demolished, he started teaching in a bus. Gave his best to those girls and educated them. Today, all he has are four walls with no roof. He sponsors the education of 35 young girls and visits them every week. From organizing little Christmas parties to taking these girls out on field visits, he tries it all. With the help of a sponsor at the moment, he has the journey going. Just like a roller-coaster, Pierre Péan has seen his ups and downs during making his dream meet the horizon.
Having read a lot about him, I saw how he usually focused on education for women. On asking him about his decision to prioritize girls over boys, he says “Girls don’t get things easily here. Boys are usually preferred.” That’s why to make the girls independent, he decided to give them the best possible resources.
Talking about the achievements of his students, he says how Pooja Bhushi, a 20-year-old is now into learning animation. Madina Shaikh, a 23-year-old, has found her way into hotel management. Seeing his little girls grow up into successful individuals makes him feel proud. These two along with Bhagyashree Suryawanshi, a 16-year-old, help Pierre Péan in his activities. He calls them “nos trois locomotives.”
Adding to the success of the girls he helped, he said how one of them was into commerce now, and had a job at the Kotak bank. The other one is on her way to completing her masters in social science. He adds how he has himself adopted two of the girls partially, one of whom stays with him. These souls have seen the dark after sunset, and Pierre has been a ray of light in their life guiding the children to their new sunrise.
Pierre hasn’t visited France in the last decade. Ask him the reason and he says, “The rates are increasing, increasing, increasing, and income decreasing, decreasing, decreasing.” He adds how perfectly ‘confortable’ he is in India now. Hindi learning was on Pierre Péan ’s agenda as he came here. However, he decided to stick to English when he could buy groceries just by speaking a few English words.
While talking about his experience of being in India and his 26 years here, he says how at first, the weather didn’t suit him. There surely was some problem with the food initially, he tasted a new fusion everyday. “I can’t eat spicy food,” he expresses with his clenched eyes.
Ask him about his wish to go back to France someday, he is quick to reply, “Now, my life is in India.” From not being able to speak Hindi for day to day purchases, to now celebrating each festival in India, he has lived his life here. Be it the dim light night, or bright sunshine, Pierre has been passionate about making the lives of those little girls bloom. With a smile on his face, he calls India his home. As he sips his coffee, his hands shiver, but his courage to fight for the girls doesn’t.
Pierre Péan looks at the time, and soon realizes it’s time to get back to pick his daughter. A daughter he chose, and gave her the best standard of living. Just like the hands of his clock moved from one hour to another without stopping, he did too. He still wishes to complete all his future endeavors in India itself, for the family that he has chosen. A family where everyone is welcome, and finds their own little comfort.
As he walks to go pick his daughter, the spark in his eye continues to grow. We stand there imagining if ever we can do even one percent of what he does. All we hope for is Pierre’s spirit to never die, and salute his never say die attitude.