science warriors


Science on Wheels’, a programme on NBC, caught Pushpa Deshpande’s attention. A Maths teacher at Milwaukee Technical High School in Wisconsin, she and her husband Dr. Madhukar Deshpande, also a Maths professor at Marquette University, began reflecting. And then came the classic epiphanic moment. 
The couple decided to move. Move back to rural Maharashtra and help equip schoolchildren with practical knowledge of science. In 1994, they took premature retirement and returned to Pune, a city the Deshpandes graduated from. “The idea of a Mobile Science Lab (MSL) for rural schools came like a flash to Pushpa’s mind,” recalls Madhukar. 

It was thus that in 1995, Vidnyanvahini, a not for profit organization, was launched in Pune. Today, a state-of-the-art bus, furnished with a lab, audio-visual equipment, countertops, cupboards, a water tank and a generator, visits about 200 schools per year in 24 districts in Maharashtra. Over 100,000 students have been able to imbibe applied scientific knowledge so far, thanks to the Deshpandes.

It is said that man is a social animal. It is certainly true that in the development of an individual, the society in which s/he grows makes an immense contribution along with the family. An old African phrase ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ expresses this idea succinctly…

Madhukar and Pushpa Deshpande
Founder, Vidnyanvahini

Vidnyanvahini, along with another non-profit called ‘Hello India’, is now working towards setting up a permanent science centre at Anadur in Osmanabad district. “Another are we hope to address is agricultural advice to farmers on different aspects of farming such as water and soil testing,” says Madhukar.

Inspired by the Deshpandes, several activists have set up their own Mobile Educational Units in Karnataka, Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

MISSION: Although Vidnyanvahini was founded with the objective of providing rural schoolchildren an opportunity to handle scientific instruments and learn the basics through application, it has today become a collaborative platform, supporting other development works. In fact, Vidnyanvahini helped villagers of Surodi learn watershed development and management. It organized a workshop where eminent social workers like Anna Hazare and Popatrao Pawar trained the villagers in watershed management.
The Association for India’s Development’s (AID), Pittsburgh chapter, provided $6,000 for this effort. 
From water-harvesting to science education to agriculture, Vidnyanvahini’s integrative and collaborative efforts have helped create vibrant communities, imbuing them with a scientific temper.

RECOGNITION: The Deshpandes served as members of India Development Service (IDS), a not-for-profit organization in Chicago, for over a decade. The couple has been honoured with various awards for community service. Pushpa has been receipient of the Rajiv Gandhi Award and a Sewasadan Award in recognition of her service to the cause of education in rural Maharashtra. In 2003, she received an award from Bhagini Nivedita Trust for community service. Dr. Madhukar was among the recipients of the 2005 World Technology Award (WTN).

The Deshpandes’ experiments and successes have been widely reported in the print and visual media.

Contact: 701-B, Kshitij, Plot No. 87 A-1, Sahakarnagar No. 2, Pune – 411009. Phone: 020-4222127 / 4224865 E-mail:

April 2010

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