| Members of NGO Bhumika Vihar and NSS volunteers of AN College with slum children at Hardinge Road in Patna on Wednesday. Picture by Jai Prakash |
Amrita wants to become a teacher when she grows up.
“Bade hokar hum madam banna chahte hain (I aspire to become a teacher),” said the seven-year-old. Her younger sister, Jyoti, said: “Ab hume padhane Madam aati hain (Now, we are taught regularly).”
To help children like Amrita and Jyoti, who live in the slums near Hardinge Road, non-government organisation Bhumika Vihar along with the NSS volunteers of AN College have taken up the initiative to teach them.
“The children in the slum had taken to gambling, as there was no one to take care of them. Most of the adult men in the slum have hit the bottle. The women work as domestic help,” said Shilpi Singh, director, Bhumika Vihar.
She added: “To teach the kids, we decided to involve them in creative pursuits. It took us a few weeks to gain the confidence of their parents.”
Efforts to provide free education to the children of the slums started a year back. Two-hour-long classes are conducted on weekdays at a temple near the slum.
“We try to provide a holistic education to the children. They not only learn different disciplines but also about how to conduct themselves and etiquette. We use stories and rhymes to instruct them,” said Shilpi.
Ashutosh, an NSS volunteer who has been involved with the project, said he has witnessed a major change in the children. “Many of them want to study, some of them are even familiar with the basic tenets of mathematics and English. But their parents often force them to go to work instead of studying,” he said.
For the parents, asking their children to work is more an unpleasant compulsion than a wilful choice.
Amrita, who wants to become a teacher, lost her father in an accident a few years back. Her mother, Neelam Devi, is the sole earning member in the family. She works as a domestic help. “I don’t want my daughters to follow in my footsteps. I did not want to send them to school. I had got them admitted to a government school but they were hardly taught anything there. But in the new school, they have learnt to count,” said Neelam, adding that sometimes her daughters sing rhymes that she does not understand.
The journey of their instructors was not easy, though.
Purnima Shekhar Singh, the programme officer of the NSS, said: “Our idea was to connect community to classroom. After working hard for a year, we have a class of 20 students. We have to conduct group activities every week to boost their confidence. In order to boost their creative skills, so that they can find employment irrespective of their gender, we have decided to train them in theatre and mehandi designing.”
There are challenges aplenty ahead for the project. For instance, the lack of space for the school. “Hardinge Road is an upscale area — on the right hand side are the homes of senior political leaders and on the left are the slums. The residents of the area have seen us playing with the children and taking classes. But no one has approached us with the offer to provide us any space,” said Shilpi.