"People are touching my feet now," says D Prakash Rao, a Cuttack-based tea seller, after he was lauded by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 44th edition of 'Mann Ki Baat' over the weekend.
Starting at the mere age of 6, Rao has been selling tea for the past 54 years.
Due to financial problems he was not able to continue studies after class five despite getting distinction. However, Rao accepted this as a challenge and today he lives his dream through nurturing the lives of 70-75 slum children in his school.
"I don't want these kids to lack behind in studies just because they don't have money. So, I divide my time between school, tea shop and going to hospital to help patients. I started my life as a tea seller. Later on, I became a teacher and now people in hospital think that I am a doctor too," Rao told ANI.
Rao said that over 70 students study in his school and that the students feel more comfortable in school rather than sitting idle at home or roaming around in streets.
"Around 70-75 students study in my school. Their parents are not much concerned about their studies. Even these children didn't want to come to us. However, we decided to give food to them. That's how they all come here now. Also, besides studies, these children get to learn singing, dance and judo. Today, they feel more comfortable in school rather than sitting idle at home or roaming around in streets," he added.
When asked as to how he manages to run the school single-handedly, Rao said: "I earn Rs 600 per day during off season and around Rs 700-800 in season time. So, money is not an issue. I want to see these children become something in future."
While sharing insights from his meeting with Prime Minister Modi, Rao said: "I never thought in my dreams that I will get to meet the world's favourite leader. When he came to Orissa, I got a call from his office to come and meet him. With 15-20 children, I went to meet PM Modi. When he saw me, he waved his hand and said, 'Rao sahib. I have come here to meet you. I know everything about you. Nobody needs to tell anything to me.'
Though Rao was hesitant at first, he said he soon became comfortable after looking at the hospitality of the Prime Minister.
"Modi ji asked me sit next to him. He spent 18 minutes with us. It's a coincidence that on May 26, Modi ji met us and the very next day he lauded my efforts on 'Mann Ki Baat'. After this incident, people have started touching my feet. He said he will surely come to have food in our school whenever he next comes to Odisha."
Not to miss out, besides his efforts in school, Rao has also donated blood for an unbelievable "217 times."
"Today, I have received so many awards that my wife fights with me as to why I get them at home when we don't have space to keep them," Rao concluded.
Prime Minister Modi in his monthly radio programme on May 27, said, "Rao has been a tea vendor in Cuttack for the past five decades. You will be surprised to know that the lives of more than 70 children are being illuminated through education due to his efforts. He has opened a school named 'Asha Ashvaasan', spending 50 per cent of his income for children living in slums and hutments."
"He ensures education, health and meals for all the children coming to this school," said Prime Minister Modi, who met Rao during his Cuttack visit on May 26.