His Free School Under The Bridge Teaches 300 Kids From Weak Background
Schools are not made of walls, pillars, corridors, uniforms or desks, they are made of teachers willing to impart the knowledge they have and students eager to attain this knowledge and grasp every opportunity they get. Basic schooling is as important as air, water and shelter to adapt and survive in this fast-paced world. UNESCO reveals that 17.7 million children do not attend school in the country. While child labour is banned, more than 12 million children are made to work, although, many NGO’s even suggest that the real figures could be as high as 60 million. There may be one of the smartest minds in the world sleeping under the stars unable to use his gift of divine intelligence because of the helpless conditions he has to survive with. The core reason behind this is poverty. The families of these children do have the finances to fund their education.
Education is a birth right and an opportunity to all should not be lost because of poverty. While we all sympathize for them, it was 46-year-old Rajesh Kumar Sharma who thought of bringing about a change in society by starting a free school for the rural poor. This thought had a personal past to it. Rajesh wanted to pursue engineering as a profession but due to financial constraints had to drop out of college.
Rajesh started the school in 2006 with just 2 children and now caters to more than 300 young minds. He encourages all of them to enrol in government schools as well to aid the benefits like free mid-day meals, books, etc. He helps them understand the syllabus better and attends to each and every single child. Over the years, the school has gained popularity and is termed as ‘Free School under the Bridge.’ Classes were initially held in jhuggis till 2009, after which they were broken down. Following this, they were started under the metro station bridge. There are 2 batches held every day under the Yamuna bank metro station, boys are taught from 9-11 am and girls from 12-2pm.
The school uses rugs and carpets for seating and the walls are painted black to use as blackboards. Students do not want to miss school even for a day, whatever be the weather conditions. “I am in STD 6 and have been studying here for the last 5 years. I like to come here every day,” says Bunty Mohammed, one of the children studying in the school. Experiencing such level of gusto and dedication is what helps the teachers stay motivated too. Laxmi Chandra, Shyam Mehta and Vasant Guruji are the other teachers who teach the children free of cost.
Every morning the students sweep the floor before they begin class. They are scheduled for physical exercise on Saturdays. The walls and platforms have been painted with bright coloured murals. Rajesh claims, “I do not want this generation to lose out just because they are poor.”
Another task was convincing the parents of these students to send their children to school. The parents of these children were impoverished migrant workers, daily wage labourers and seasonal farmers. They wanted their ward to do part time jobs, help in household chores or take care of their siblings. They were resilient at first, but considering that their child’s future is at stake, they would willingly agree to send them to school.
Even though the school has gained popularity, there are very few people who have come forward to render help in terms of stationary, snacks and books. Despite the lack of facilities, Rajesh has not given up on his dream project of ensuring that at least one of his students would become an engineer someday. He would then be living his dream through their lives. The world is a competitive place and we are in dire need of more Rajesh’s’ to plant a seed in our young ones and nurture them as they grow.
(By Declan Rego)