Sunday, 6 June 2010

Children of captitalism nurse a social cause

They are young, single highly educated and well-heeled MNC employees. The upwardly mobile young brigade in Gurgaon, a neighbouring town of Delhi, works in swanky offices through the week.

Deep in their heart, away from the glitz and glamour of capitalism, they nurse a social cause — to do their bit for those who have been left behind in the race of modernity.

Come weekend, they teach in schools and scout through slums — mushrooming on the fringe of high-rise apartments and outskirts of the city — to persuade rag pickers or daily wage labourers to send their kids to school.

It’s their efforts that today many slum children are able to experience the classroom environment and are able to read and write.

These professionals are volunteers of AID India Gurgaon Chapter. Every Saturday and some Sundays they teach the children in three schools — Prerna, Disha and Unnati.

The pupils of these schools eagerly wait for Saturdays to be with these volunteers who play with them and make them laugh while teaching them basic Mathematics, Hindi and English. Kids love the non-conventional method of learning while playing. Their enthusiasm for learning is apparent as all of them try to outdo each other in answering questions.

Chamara, who doesn’t know his age but looks about 6-7-year-old, says he likes the volunteers. “They love us, make us laugh and sometimes get us goodies too,” says Chamara who studies at Prerna.

These schools were started by some of the volunteers at a small level. Unnati was the first to start in January 2007. Nishank, 27, a research analyst, along with a few friends started the weekend school for rag pickers’ kids.

“There was a slum area between my house and office. I wanted to do something for them. So, one day I visited them and started teaching kids under a tree. And, Unnati was born,” says Nishank, who was joined in by more volunteers.

But the kids wanted to study everyday instead of just on weekends. Four months later, collaboration with Literacy India got them a paid teacher who would teach kids five days a week and now in a classroom at Jharsa village adjoining the Gurgaon city.

Gradually more kids from other slums were brought in. They would be taught in two shifts for two hours in the morning. And volunteers would continue meeting and teaching them on weekends.

Two years later, Disha was opened, a few blocks away from Unnati. “Fifty kids joined on the first day on January 26, 2009. All of them were children of rag pickers,” says Munish Duvedi, 26, a clinical researcher, who coordinates activities of the three schools run with the help of Aid India Gurgaon Chapter volunteers.

The one-hall classroom was donated by the village council is neat and lively with drawings and paintings done by pupils. Colourful furniture, book racks, teaching boards and a statue of a Hindu Goddess of wisdom, Saraswati, in a corner do make it look like an abode of learning.

At present, there are 32 kids enrolled at Disha. “The kids are very sharp and pick up very fast,” says Poonam Saini, the teacher at the school, adding that some pupils still go back to rag picking in the evening after attending the class.

The main aim is to introduce these kids to the joys of reading and writing and finally graduate them into mainstream schools.

Moffidul, 11, is now in class II at Vivek High School. He likes his new school as he is being taught new things. But he still loves coming to Disha where he first learnt alphabets of Hindi and English.

“I come here to meet my teacher. I like her a lot,” says Moffidul with a smile. He is the youngest in his family and says, “Munish ‘Sir’ enrolled me at Disha”.

“Before coming to Disha I never went to any school. I used to pick rag. But now I put all my attention on studies,” says he.

He understands education can open a new world to him where he won’t have to pick rag and live in a shanty house anymore. “When I grow up I want to become a teacher. My father says I’m proud of you. He now doesn’t force me into rag picking,” says Moffidul with a smile.

But if need be, Moffidul still helps in cooking food and cleaning his house.

Papiya, 9, a classmate of Moffidul, has also come along with him to meet the teacher. Daughter of a migrant labourer from Bengal, she had to leave school when she moved to Delhi with her father.

“At our new school (Vivek High School) they teach us more. Earlier I knew very little but I think I now know quite a lot,” quips Papiya.

Mofuddil and Papiya are among 25 pupils from the three centres who have been inducted into formal schools. But their progress is still being monitored by the volunteers who also collect money to pay for their fees.

About 10 minutes drive from Disha and Unnati is Prerna. Forty kids come to the makeshift school everyday. A paid teacher gives lessons to kids during the week. And volunteers take care of weekends.

Most of the kids don’t know their age but all of them now know the value of education.

Puja says, “I don’t want to remain illiterate like our parents. I want to do something better than them. I want to become an engineer.” Another girl, Pushpa, wants to be a teacher when she grows up.

“The pupils have learnt some classroom etiquettes and keep themselves neat and tidy to an extent,” says their teacher.

The school was a result of Manish Kumar, 24, an IT Engineer, and his friend, Kunal, who wanted to do something meaningful on their weekends instead of just watching movies or shopping week after weeks.

Thus began Prerna in a tent on Children’s Day, November 14, in 2009 amidst a slum of sculptors. However, retaining kids was still a challenge. “On the first day there were 50 kids, curiosity brought 80 kids to the classroom the second day but the third day it came crashing to just 20 as part of the slums was evacuated and partly parents were not bothered to send the kids to school,” says Manish. So with it came another task of motivating parents to send their kids to the school.

Soon they lost their temporary school as well. “Luckily, Brigadier AS Yadav let us use his land to build a makeshift school and today the strength of pupils is 40 with equal number of girls,” says Manish.

The volunteers raise money and Aid finances additional expenses. While these kids benefit from the well-educated volunteers, the volunteers say kids help them to evolve as better persons.

Dillip Kumar, 29, a banker, says, “After coming in touch with these kids I have learned to be patient and listen to people. I have learnt how to smile even in adverse condition without cribbing about harsh life.”

All volunteers eagerly wait for a Saturday to come. This is the time to break from office environment and be with fellow volunteers who are full of beans and a bunch of hilarious people. One cannot stop but laugh while being with them.

Mansi Jain, 24, a software engineer, has been teaching kids since November last year and doesn’t want to miss any weekend to be with them. “I have made quite a few friends after joining Disha. I love coming here. The atmosphere is jovial here. We have some nice time in teaching and learning with kids,” says she with a smile.

Anjali Mehta, 23, who is pursuing BA in social work through distance education, comes to Disha and Unnati everyday to teach and take care of administration and on Sundays she goes to slums to motivate parents to send their kids to school. She is glad what she is doing because “this is what I always wanted to do this,” says she.

The volunteers want their strength to grow manifold as it would mean making a difference in more disadvantaged children’s life.

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