Change brings fresh exposure and experience to life. The most positive aspect of my present office is that it is surrounded by a lot of greenery and is located beside a large beautiful park. One good habit I started since last one year is to take a 20 minutes’ walk inside the park on every working day after lunch. People relax on the lush green ground, couples engage in sweet conversations, rare birds chirp and fly around gigantic trees, a few loners read books or plug to their favourite music, a handful of vendors sit quietly with large baskets of peanuts and churmuri, and some people plunge into deep thoughts and stay in an introspective mood, stimulated by the positive vibes of the natural serenity.
What really makes me happy and creative is none of the above. Last several months of midday break in this park, contributed to my personal enrichment, gave emotional satisfaction, and triggered a sense of fulfilment thanks to a group of innocent children. This group of children are brought all five days of the week from their ‘homes’ located in a large slum 20 kilometres away in the Nayanahalli village. They come around 11 am and stay till 4 pm in a specific place inside the park.That is their school; a real open school. Their parents are illiterate people and earn their livelihood as construction labourers, sweepers and vegetable vendors in various locations in and around the city. They want these kids, who are between the age group 4 to 10 (none of them have any document to prove their birth or age), to do hard labour along with them in the site. They say, ’our 5 year old can fetch us about fifty rupees per day, when he is sent to the nearby marriage halls or restaurants for cleaning the utensils or when he comes with us to the site and helpss us in picking up bricks’. An NGO ‘Balutsav’ (an initiative of Child Empowerment Foundation India) started by the couple Ramesh Balasundaram and Binu Verma, has mustered the courage to talk to the parents and convince them about the need to educate these children
Encouraged by the success of the museum school in Bhopal,these children are taught about the country, its history, and about the nature, through regular visits to the Visvesvaraya museum located near the park. Padmini who was a trainer with Spastic Society of India for the past 15 years, supervises the children by spending her entire day on all the five days of the week. She is a successful mother who transformed her spastic child to a software graduate. A typical day starts with a secular prayer, ('asto ma sadgamaya, tamaso ma jyotirgamaya, mrtyorma amrtam gamaya (click link for meaning)). This is followed by a few minutes of physical exercises and meditation. They are made to sit in groups of 10, each under a teacher. The teachers are girls in their early twenties who are also from the same slum. They are the few who know to read and write in the entire colony of about 1000 odd residents. These girls were given training by the NGO and they were happy to be called ‘teachers’. These ‘teachers’ along with the children pack two large containers containing rice and sambar and they are picked up from the slum in a van. Money is given every week to the ‘teachers’ to buy rice and vegetables to prepare the meal. These ‘teachers’ are also given a monthly honorarium.
Padmini with her students
Children in the slum hated schools earlier, because of a bitter experience. The teachers from the nearby government schools caught them one day from the slum and locked them up in class rooms for the entire day. That was the date of inspection in the School by the officials from the Department of Education for a physical head count of students. Once the exercise got over, these children were let go by the teachers. But the ‘imprisonment’ and mental torture made them hate the School, blackboards and teachers. The classes, the play, the food and the singing of national anthem in the open park have excited them and they have started liking slates, pens and alphabets.
|My midday re-charging|
I myself get my energies charged through my interactions with them. I found in their eagerness to learn reading and writing, a strong desire to come up in life. Children who were used to filthy words and messy life have suddenly become well mannered. They go back home spreading the positive messages to the parents and the neighbours. This has brought in attitudinal and behavioural changes in people living in that slum.
There are millions of children like the above group, who are unaware of the world beyond the hard labour in construction sites, vegetable markets, and back yards of hotels and marriage halls. Parents, feudal lords, labour contractors, and local goons exploit and abuse them verbally, physically and emotionally. They grow up with similar culture, behavioural patterns and character and propagate the same to next generation too. Fascinated by the prosperous lifestyle all around and yet deprived of the basic necessities, the younger generation who grow up in the slums would explore avenues to have quick money and enjoyment through any means. The present day system of schooling is unable to attract these children. Rather they prefer to run away from it. (Forget about them! Are our children in schools really enjoying the type of teaching there?) There is a need for more committed individuals, organizations and officials in the mission to rescue innocent lives from cruelties, abuses, exploitation and misery.
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(c) Sibichen K Mathew