You know a city is on thin ice when you find that for a particular section of the society “Livelihood is more important than Education”. When “good” schools of the city fail to accept the street children and “good” teachers do not want to teach- the future of these poverty-stricken children is bound to hang by a thread.
Well, from the comfort of your couch, it is impossible to understand what it is like to live in street but thanks to this NGO, underprivileged children of Kolkata still have some hope and maybe they will have something better to do in future rather than begging on the streets every day.
Life Beyond Numbers spent a wonderful day with few street kids who are now rescued by HUHT (Help Us Help Them) NGO through their project- “School on Wheels” so that when half of the city is enjoying privileges, the other half is not deprived of their basic rights and opportunities.
HUHT started its journey by providing relief work to natural calamities in 2001 and is now focusing its effort in the sphere of education. It started with 10 students in 2006 and now more than 300 students have been benefitted from the initiative.
While the NGO has set up a school at Mallikpur in 2006 after numerous surveys, their flagship project “School on Wheels” came into being in 2013. And what makes this project so interesting? – When you can’t go to school, the school comes to you.
Education on Wheels
Their method of education doesn’t involve traditional desks and benches but a team of dedicated teachers and joyful students in a portable classroom.
These children live on the streets. Some sleep on a van, some put up a tent beside the road and some of them have no care in the world. So, looking for food every day is part of their daily routine. Therefore, after attending classes the NGO provides them with a healthy breakfast.
Every day at 7:30 am, a bus from this NGO stops in a narrow lane of Shovabazar, which is close to Sonagachi- Asia’s largest red light district and home to more than 10,000 sex workers. From Sovabazar, the bus moves to Baghbazar, Belgachia and Hastings. While one bus covers the northern part of the city another stands at Park Circus and other areas in the southern part of the city.
Rituparna Barman (25), who has joined this NGO 3-4 months back says, “We have 2 buses that roam across the city every day so that the slum kids have access to education. Every day the classes start at 7:30 am and ends at 6:30 pm. We follow the routine and teach these children accordingly. Children as young as 5-year-olds attend our classes.”
In the 2 hour sessions at each place- the learning sessions start with students performing prayers, meditation, learning about good and bad habits before the starting of the class. This helps them to protect themselves or at least give them a clear understanding of the situations around them. Further, these practices help them to focus and concentrate on their studies in tough circumstances.
“Inside the bus, a classroom-like environment is created with colorful drawings, charts so that students are never bored. The attendance of the students varies from 15-25 and each one of them have their personal notebooks so that teachers can keep track of their progress,” she said.
Bringing slum kids into mainstream education
Needless to say that the remoteness affects the quality of education and the idea of HUHT is to bring these children under mainstream education.
Till date, 55 children are part of the mainstream education and 30 children are sent to Jyotirmay Vidya Mandir, an English medium school in Ballygunge, Kolkata. We take all the responsibilities and bear all the expenses while sending them to school. We want to take into account every underprivileged child into our project so that they can benefit from this and can equip themselves with modern education
Another teacher, Anay Biswas (36) who has been teaching the street children since 2015 says, “For 5 days a week we take classes and on weekends, we prepare assignments for these children so that on weekdays we can continue with our regular classes.”
Adding meaning to their life
More than happiness, it is necessary to help these children add meaning to their life. The education gap is likely to increase if we deprive a vast section of society from education.
On asking how does it feel to attend a school, five-year-old Ayush Seth nodded his head to say ‘yes’.
In streets, these children are vulnerable to violence and they don’t know how to protect themselves. As a result, most of the times, due to lack of knowledge, they are not able to separate right from wrong and in worst cases, they are incarcerated for violent and non-violent crimes.
50-year-old Pamela Upadhyay, a teacher with the NGO says, “These street children are keen to learn and if provided with opportunities, they will do extremely well. Education is important irrespective of the fact who you are and where you come from.”
Initially, the school at Mallikpur by HUHT NGO provided education through drawings and other-co-curricular activities so that children feel enthusiastic enough to join the school but since 2011, proper education is provided to children from nursery to Class 1 and supplementary education from class II to class X.
Introducing Smart Class
These children are introduced to Smart Class at the school in Mallikpur for their overall development. Skype sessions connect teachers from different parts of the country so that they can improve their spoken languages.
Holding 2000 books, the KALAM Library is open to these school children to increase the horizon of their knowledge. Now, the school also has a science lab so that the teachers can conduct practical exams.
For sports also, they provide proper training so that they can excel. Currently, 370 street children have benefited from this project. There are also volunteers as well who are helping us to make education more effective for these children.
This NGO has tie-ups with NIIT (National Institute of Information Technology) so that children have access to computers and from SAI (Skill Academy of India), a coach teaches swimming to these underprivileged children. Till now 3 students have participated in the state level championships and 7 of them are in district level. Further, UCMAS ABACUS, a child development programme is helping them to learn efficiently.
Like other schools, the parent-teacher meeting is compulsory at an interval of a certain period. To make it interesting, games are organized and prizes are distributed to the participants. “We provide items of daily needs such as sugar, rice, cooking oil, utensils so that we can at least bring them to these meetings and counsel them if needed,” says Upadhyay.
Due to the lack of official data, it is difficult to gauge the number of street children in Kolkata and whether their situation has improved over the years or not.
Benjamin Franklin once said- “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” It is necessary that we don’t teach these children to run a rat race, rather we need to ask them value-oriented questions and study their opinions so that we have a glimpse of their emotional intelligence. Only then they will understand the true meaning of education and will achieve freedom in the true sense of the term.