Today was a landmark day, what with no play sessions and only one long study session. Except for the incident with a grumpy watchman who told us to vacate our study place (outside a beauty parlor – the lady does not open shop till 10 in the morning), and who was shown the way pretty soon by all of us, the day was good for many reasons.
To begin with, I decided to teach the kids some English phrases and hence taught them “Good Morning”, “How are you?”, and “I am fine.” Soon the lady from the parlor came along and after I urged one of the kids, he boldly wished her “Good Morning,” much to her surprise!
The most stubborn of the lot, Gaja, who could not even hold a pencil (and I am not exaggerating here) when we first began classes, took to writing the alphabets religiously. He had problems with making even a small straight line with the pencil, but put in his all to make sure that the letters that he wrote were similar to those I had written in his book. There was another boy who had landed in Mumbai a couple of days back and who had already started work in a garage learning the ropes. As he had been to school, he helped some of the kids write down the letters.
In between we took mini breaks when the kids had loads of updates. Ankush enthusiastically told me about how the last night the winds were so strong that they blew away the cloth ceilings of their road side shacks and how no one was able to sleep because they all got drenched in the rain and the babies kept bawling throughout the night. He said it with such energy that for a moment, I could not help smiling, forgetting the misery that the people would have suffered, but later on, had a silent prayer on my lips hoping that this lot doesnt suffer much during the rains.
The Search for a school
My friend and I started on a mini tour of municipal schools in Kandivali East. We went to a Marathi medium school and were completely taken aback by the reception we got there. The teachers who spoke to us were so polite and more importantly were very interested in knowing that we planned to admit children of construction workers in their school. When we were telling them that these children were 7-8 years but had never attended school, we were sure that they were going to tell us that in that case, they could not do anything. But they did not so much as bat an eyelid.
“Oh in that case, first make sure that these kids are not going to leave Mumbai during the rainy season and that they spend at least one whole academic year in school. We would need a birth certificate for the admission and if they don’t have that, we can make do with an affidavit. That will cost, but I don’t think that should be a problem.” Pat came the reply from a staff member! “The government has this scheme called the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and we can put these kids under that scheme.”
(I later researched more about the scheme and found out that it has made a big impact in bringing education to areas hitherto untouched by schools and also by upgrading infrastructural and educational standards in existing schools. There has been such extensive effort that has gone into this, you can read all about it in http://ssa.nic.in/)
Thus began the procedures. She wrote down the names of the children that we were interested in admitting to the school and told us that if we came the next day, she would explain in detail all the procedures in this process.
This, with stars in our eyes and beautiful visions of these kids who now, don’t even have a decent pair of clothing, walking around in fresh school uniforms with school bags slung over their backs like we all did while we were young, we trotted back home.
On the way, we met the children again, spoke to their mothers (as fathers were away for work), and told them about this idea. They were happy to hear this. There was one lady who came forward and asked us to “do something for my daughter also.”
“I want to educate her, but that man does not want to. And we don’t know when we might go back to our village. We stay in Mumbai for only eight months a year.” When we told her that she should somehow educate her daughter, she said that even the previous night when she was talking about this to her husband, he got so angry he screamed and caught her throat. Grinding our teeth in anger, we told her that we will try our best and do something for her daughter.
So we wait for the morrow, when we will know how easy the task of admitting these kids, is! God willing, it should not be very difficult, and when it happens eventually, even if the children stick to the school atmosphere for half a year, it will help mould their personalities to a great extent.
Keep watching this space, this is hot news… and getting hotter by the day! We will party….the day these fellas are in school!