Looking back, Looking forward

This was a quiet month on most counts. The children have been attending classes regularly and the teachers too have settled into a routine.  It is heartening to see the kids make progress, and at the same time heart-breaking to realise how much more could have been achieved if the classes had been offline.

One highlight of this month was definitely the interview of the founders, Meera Ashar and Ajanta Purkayastha, on FM Radio, where they spoke about their inspiring journey – the story about how they were moved when they first saw the children in their community and how they were determined to make a difference to their lives. They had been out of school and had an uncertain future. From that stage, to where they are now, is an amazing story.

This, we thought is a good time to look back and see how far we have come.

Where We Were

The community where the learning centre is located consists of migrant workers who have over time, settled in there in large numbers. To make ends meet, both parents are working in most houses. The children have either never gone to school, or have had only the most rudimentary, short exposure to schooling back in the villages/towns they have come from. Most couldn’t read or write, had no grooming, lacked refinement and had no polish. They had no manners or grooming, used to constantly play in the muck and lacked any kind of discipline and were unable to enrol in local government schools

It would be a brave woman who would contemplate any kind of teaching with this lot. But the co-founders did not despair. They bravely made a plan, gathered the resources, and got down to work. Hiring premises for the centre within the community itself was a masterstroke which made it easier to get the parents and children on board. The parents felt safe sending their children to a campus which was within their community, and for the children, the centre was just a short walk away.

We started with just a handful of children in one small room within the community. It was a heterogeneous group with differing levels of age, aptitude and previous exposure to schooling. It looked like a Herculean task to get them to any kind of discipline, let alone teaching.

And so, the team of volunteer-teachers rolled up their sleeves and set to work earnestly.

The first task was to first establish a channel of communication with them so they would learn to listen.  Only when the two-way communication went successfully underway was it possible to gauge where they stood in terms of academic and other levels, and plan further.

As word went around the community that here was a group of volunteers who actually took interest in the children and wanted to help in their development, more and more parents came forward to enrol their children.

Today we stand at 75 students across ages 5 to 15.

Where We are Today

The most impactful change we have observed is that they now have a collective identity that has motivated and encouraged each of them, and drives us as well.

Today, the children have hopes and dreams for the future. They know that if they put their hearts into it and work hard, they can reach where they want to, in life. 

From being unwilling to question and be content to merely following instructions when we first started, to being curious and have an open mind today, they have come a long way.

Academically, students have grown in leaps and bounds. Many who started at zero are now at 3rd grade level in just two years. Others who had few years of schooling but much less actual learning, have been able to help bridge the gap with our help.

With respect to discipline – attendance, discipline, and the ability to sit down and listen is a wonderful change which has made all the above possible. They are polite, well-groomed and know how to behave in a class. With lockdown classes having gone online, they have even learnt how to handle the learning devices with ease.

Today, we are proud to see the students being able to work in a group, respect others and still hold their own.

Setting them successfully on this path of continuous learning is what keeps us going.

Where we hope to be tomorrow

Currently, we have on our team teachers who teach art, yoga, public speaking, spoken English along with mainstream academic subjects.  We offer a well-rounded, holistic development that goes beyond mere academics. We take the students on various field trips and organise various health, educational and fun camps. We celebrate all important festivals and events. We encourage and nurture talent. Apart from these, we have also tied up with an NGO which provides daily mid-day meals.

Our target is to provide the children the best we can within our resources, and to continue to reach out to the larger community to expand our horizons even further.

Our vision is to not just make the children literate or earn a high school certificate.  We want to elevate them up from their current levels to make them reach their highest potential.   Yes, a school board certificate is certainly useful, but our sights are much higher. We want to make them employable in an area of their choice.  To this end, there is emphasis on development of soft skills like personality development, presentation skills and being computer literate. For those who show aptitude for higher studies, we will certainly guide and enable them to get to the right institutes.

Our ultimate goal is that education can get them to a stage in life where they can earn a dignified living, become respectable members of the society who can think for themselves and be able to take charge of their future.

We have never thought of ourselves as a school for the underprivileged, but on the contrary, peg ourselves as more than even a mainstream school. This is what keeps us motivated and to keep going.

Because what we offer our students is more than an education. We offer them hope for the future.