Aditi Mehandiratta, a graduate in zoology from Delhi University, gold medalist for Masters (environmental studies) from TERI; worked with International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as an Officer for its pan-India program– an active environmentalist.
Neha Grover – BBA Finance, EPGDBM (MBA) – Finance, M.A- Social Welfare Administration, worked with the Center for Career Development as Junior Counselor.
…..the readers must be wondering why I am providing the curriculum-vitae of these two girls. They are young and pretty. Modesty prevents me from asking their age. But they should not be more than 24-25. Spiritual vibrancy glows in their face. They appear utterly restless for the cause for which they are engaged in. They have given up their regular studies and gainful employment to enter the college of self-education, where their mind is Principal, initiative Professors, hard work tutors!
They belong to good, industrialist families, but they have given up the secular comforts of life and work as full-time honorary socio-spiritual workers. They say they will not marry! To my question “Why?” their cryptic answer is “It is our personal choice!” Incredible! They have established and manage Sampoorna Vikas Kendra, a supplementary education program at a slum area in Shakurpur, New Delhi. They have named the initiative as Manthan. (The churning process)
“I saw some young children loitering at the constructions site of a multistoried building; their parents were busy mixing concrete and breaking stones, and the children remained unattended. They were in rags and looked unclean. They were not at all health conscious, knew nothing about hygiene and good practices of life,” says Neha with controlled emotions.
“Everything in life has to start from the beginning to these children.”
“Education?-not for our children! As they grow they will also join us in this work; sister, we had never been to school. We thank God if we provide them stomach-full of food two times in a day and we can afford nothing else.”This is the unending story of majority of workers.
“Instead of sympathy, we need to provide them something tangible, something self-sustaining for all time to come, something that will beneficially affect their generations to come and alter their destiny,” opines Aditi and she is all set to plan the individual budget needed to support each child for its all-round development as students-as children!
Sampoorna Vikas Kendra was born on 1st December 2009.
“We were very clear about one thing. Our educational centre should be self-supporting and the children should get all that they need food, clothing, books and stationery and above all the life-sustaining force, moral education and encouragement. Our calculations brought us to a budgeted figure of Rs.7, 200/- per child, per year. We worked for sponsorships. We made efforts through personal contacts, distribution of literature and pamphlets and the oral transmission of our ideas, ideals and plans. We took a place measuring about 600 sq. ft on rent. The first class was inaugurated with just 4 students,” explains Aditi. Today they have 80 students, all poorest of the poor and all sponsored @ Rs.7200/- per child.
“At present, ours is mainly a supplementary education program. The children belong to the socially deprived class. They are migrants, from various communities and they speak different languages. They fail to get regular, authentic education. They are undernourished and lack confidence,” says Neha.
“…and they are not aware of their latent skills. They just do not know that there is something like creativity in each child. We have found some students outstanding in arts and mathematics. We have a boy in the school who is a dancing genius; these children are like the creepers without support,” adds Aditi.
I talked to Anam, a ten year old girl, studying for the 4th class. She describes herself thus: “I belong to a poor family. When my mother brought me here, I was shy. I never participated in any activities and was very bad in studies. But, the teachers paid special attention to me. I was fond of drawing. They recognized this and helped me enhance my creativity by encouraging me to draw. I have now become confident, due to their support. My mother is delighted to see my work; I also get daily nutrition and regular health check-up facilities here. I feel God has given me a new life. My parents are happy with me.”
“Why a supplementary education program? Why not a full-fledged school?” I ask Neha.
“That will follow; we are working on it,” she says in a matter of fact tone and explains,
See, what is happening in some of these government owned schools, as told to us by our students. The teachers pressurize them to avail tuitions; their parents somehow arrange for the tuition fees, as they have no voice to protest. During tuition hours, they are asked to do personal jobs, domestic chores etc. At the time of examination, they help them to pass through dubious means. Sometimes, they provide the questions and answers in advance.
The poor cannot afford to study in private schools, where the tuition fees and transport charges are exorbitant.
“Our fundamental objective is to provide education to the poor; to make them self-sufficient; to make the girl-child fully empowered. We are not up to profiteering in the name of education,” asserts a confident Aditi.
“Would you also advise them not to marry?”I ask. They laugh mysteriously and say, “We never give such an advice. It’s all one’s personal choice. Divinity has to work in that direction!”
It has been a great experience visiting the school and to know about Manthan. The cultural program held on the Independence Day (2010-08-15) in this teaching centre was a tribute to the versatile abilities of the children, who were non-entities in the society until a few months ago. It is a great constructive effort by the combustible younger generation of India, who are truly concerned to break the shackles of the corrupt set up in the field of education.