The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Deprived kids who dare to overcome

• Name: Rukshar Khatoon. Class: VII. Father: makes leather sandals. Achievements: always a topper and perfect attendance. Support to family: a vital Rs 75 per month earned by giving tuition to three kids in the locality.

• Name: Surjit Singh. Class: IX. Father: daily wage-earner, can’t work after sustaining injuries during the Gulf war. Achievements: an all-rounder and the school’s head boy. Support to family: works as a waiter, morning and evening.

• Name: Sheikh Ashfaq. Class: VI. Father: dead. Achievements: topper and part of all extra-curricular activities, Support to family: breadwinner, sells plastic bags after school.

When other kids are enjoying the comforts of life, before and beyond school hours, these little soldiers are slogging day in and day out, but refusing to part ways with the power of the printed word. Though saddled with extreme odds, they are desperate to overcome them and lead a life tomorrow that’s different from today. Here are 10 kids — students of the Assembly of God Church Hindi Medium School — who dare to dream on, despite deprivation.

“They come from very humble backgrounds and hardly have any facilities to study at home. Still, they are excelling and we want to give them some encouragement by felicitating them at an awards ceremony on Saturday,” says Ashalata Satralkar, headmistress of the free school, on Elliot Road, run under the aegis of the Assembly of God Church Society.

The Rukhshars and the Surjits are all waiting for their moments of glory on Saturday afternoon, when they will walk up to the Science City stage and receive special prizes from comedian Johnny Lever.

“We like him a lot. He makes us laugh,” chorus the kids, a day before the function, aimed at mobilising funds, with “overseas support drying up since 9/11”. The school authorities are drawing up plans to extend the campus and introduce a computer-literacy course for the students.

The 600-odd students in the 34-year-old school are from the neighbouring areas and a majority of them are from below-poverty-line families, who can’t afford education for their kids. But the attendance register is proof of the sincerity of the students. Every year, around 80 to 90 students receive prizes for 100 per cent attendance.

“We try to give them the best of education and exposure,” says Satralkar. For the kids, the time they spend in school is their magic window to the world, their reason to smile. “Ghar mein to hum bore ho jate hain,” smiles Shazia, of Class IX.

Meet Shazia. Father: carpenter in a small shop. Achievements: a topper, awards galore in elocution and dance. Support to family: After the morning namaaz, the 15-year-old starts helping her mother cook and clean, before rushing to school. On her return, she helps her five siblings with their studies and hardly gets a chance to sit with her books before 9 pm.

It’s much the same struggle to study for the rest of the 10 kids — including school prefect and aspiring teacher Fatima Kaneez; Anuradha Gupta, daughter of a taxi-driver, who sees herself as a private detective; Rizwana Fatima of Class VIII, who has lost her mother and wants to be a social worker; Saba Mumtaz, who has never missed a day’s school and wants to teach history; Shanaz Khatoon of Class VI.

Then there’s Pinky Kumari Shaw of Class VII. Father: works in a grocery shop. Achievements: This rank-holder takes part in a host of extra-curricular activities. Support to family: takes care of the entire household as her mother keeps unwell. She cooks, she cleans, she takes care of her younger brothers.

In this tiny lane of central Calcutta, these children dream on about making the world a better place to live in. If little Rukshar is determined to be a doctor, Pinky is sure she’ll be a maths teacher.

Ask them about their one wish and they chorus: “There is too much poverty. Why can’t everyone get two square meals a day'”

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