Humanity exists. And not in the form of donating millions to impoverished countries in Africa. Some try to be humane in their own way, which is equally effective. For instance, this shopkeeper in Delhi runs a makeshift school for over 300 have-nots, under a metro bridge in the Yamuna River bank area in Delhi.
Rajesh Kumar Sharma- remember the name. His makeshift school is called ‘The Free School Under the Bridge’ and educates students coming in from the nearby assortment of huts and jhopris.
Don’t even assume that Sharma is a millionaire or considerably well to do. He is the only moneymaker in a family of five in Laxmi Nagar. He hails from Hathras district in Uttar Pradesh and has a shop selling groceries in Laxmi Nagar itself.
From two children in 2006, the 49-year-old has expanded the number of students to 300. They come from various below-poverty-line families- rickshaw pullers, farmers, rag pickers, etc. He has his classes in two slots- 9-11 am for around 120 boys, and then 2-4.30 pm for around 180 girls. He takes the help of 7 teachers who live nearby and volunteer in their free time to assist in teaching the students- who are aged from 4 to 14 years.
The roof of this makeshift school is the bridge. There are 5 blackboards drawn on walls, along with an assortment of products like chalk and dusters. The students sit on the floor which has carpets and they bring their own copies. Studying is usually done in groups, and there is no traffic to create diversions in between.
The inspiration comes from his own life, where he couldn’t finish his B.Sc education and had to drop out due to financial constraints. He strongly believes that no one should ever be deprived of education, which is why he spends 50 hours every week with the children.
He started alone, but now has a voluntary faculty comprising of Chetan, Shyam, Rekha, Sunita, and others who come in when they are free and take classes.
What makes this endeavor all the more special is that Sharma has done all this without any government or NGO’s help. Although he has no grudge against them for not supporting his makeshift school, there is still a tinge of sadness in it. He mentions how he saw regimes change over the course of 13 years, but no one ever took notice of his little school. And while several NGOs did contact him some years back, they seemed more into earning profit from selling this out rather than actually being invested in the education of these kids.
Credit: Sebastian Farcis
Usually, the kind of donation and help that this makeshift school gets is in the form of food or other items. Never money. Sometimes someone would give packets of biscuits to the students. If someone had a birthday, someone might buy a cake and share it amongst everyone. It just makes everyone feel like they belong to a community. A sense of social brotherhood gets instilled in them.
Not only does Sharma teach them in his own time, but he also sees to it that they are receiving official education from government schools. He maintains an attendance sheet, and if someone is absent for long periods of time, he manages to get hold of their parents and asks for reasons.
One of the many lessons that Sharma teaches is cleanliness. He already has separate washrooms meant for boys and girls. Sometimes the nearby shopkeepers donate potable water which is useful in the scorching hot summer months.
One of the teachers who has been associated with this school for quite some time now is Laxmi Chandra. She has a degree in science from Nalanda University and coming from an impoverished background- she understands the suffering of these children. She teaches them mathematics and considers them her family now.
The students are examples that poverty can never come in between one’s zeal to study. Even if it is a makeshift school. Where there is a will, there is always a way.
Featured Image: Sushil Kumar/HT PHOTO