How many of us who are fortunate enough to live a good life contribute back to society? When we say fortunate, it does not necessarily mean only in terms of money, but also in terms of a healthy life and a knowledgeable mind.
Meet this man from Delhi, who has been running a makeshift school for more than 300 underprivileged children beneath a metro bridge in the Yamuna Bank area for the last over eight years, without any assistance neither from the government nor any NGOs. He calls his project, ‘The Free School Under The Bridge’.
- 49-year-old Rajesh Kumar Sharma is doing a noble cause by educating hundreds of children living in shacks and hutments close to the Yamuna Bank metro station
- Sharma belongs to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district and is the sole breadwinner of his family of five, who all live in Laxmi Nagar, New Delhi
- Part time educator runs a small grocery shop in the same locality to support his family
- Sharma, who could not complete his B.Sc and dropped out of college due to his family’s poor financial condition, says that no one should be deprived of education due to poverty and to fulfil his or her dream, he dedicates over 50 hours a week to the children
The School & It’s Students
- The concept of this under the bridge school began with two children in 2006 when the idea came to Sharma’s mind while wandering around the empty fields close to the Yamuna river
- The school, as on date, accommodates a total of 300 children of slum dwellers, ragpickers, rickshaw-pullers and beggars
- Today, Rajesh runs two shifts; one from 9-11 AM for 120 boys and the other 2-4.30 PM for 180 girls; with the help of seven teachers who live in nearby areas and in their free time, volunteer to teach the students
- All students are aged between 4 and 14 years
- The open house school, whose roof is a Delhi metro bridge, has five blackboards painted on the wall of the metro complex and some stationary such as chalks and dusters, pens and pencils
- The children, who sit on the ground covered with carpets, bring their own note books and study together in groups
- According to Sharma, the children always remain cheerful whenever they study because they know that their future is in their hands if they continue their studies seriously
- The children here are also taught about the value of cleanliness and has separate toilets for boys and girls near the school
- Occasionally, some shopkeepers donate drinking water which is a big help specially in the summer
Sharma’s Teaching & Economic Support
- Although he started the movement of educating the poor children on his own, Sharma is now assisted by teachers Laxmi Chandra, Shyam Mahto, Rekha, Sunita, Manisha, Chetan Sharma and Sarvesh who take classes on their free will
- None of teachers get paid for the deed and never any government representative has approached them for any kind of assistance
- Laxmi Chandra, hails from Bihar’s Nalanda, and has been teaching Mathematics here since 2011
- He too comes from a very poor background and considers these students as his family for whom he says he is always available
- The school receives only genuine contribution from individuals which is not in the monetary form
- Some contributor visit the school and distribute biscuit packets, fruits, water bottles and packaged food, while some youngsters celebrate their birthdays with the children, cut cakes here and have food together by sitting beneath the bridge
Such occasions make them feel that they are also the part of the society no matter where they live or what background they belong to.
Never Said Yes To Support From Shady NGOs
Sharma is driven by his selfless goal of educating these poor and underprivileged children whose smile is more than enough for him. With regards to assistance from various groups and NGOs, Sharma told Hindustan Times,
Initially some NGOs contacted me and tried to be associated with the makeshift school but I never allowed them as they all looked suspicious. None of them were serious about the children’s education and their future.
All they were interested in was making money by showing something and claiming something else. I did not approve of their way of functioning which had many loopholes and room for discrepancies.
What Lies Ahead After Schooling
- Sharma not only conducts regular classes for the students, but also gets them enrolled into the nearby government schools and ensures that they devote sufficient time to their education
- He maintains a record of the students and conducts their attendance. If a student is absent beyond a reasonable period, he contacts their family and tries to know the reason for the absence
- There are times when some children get absent for days as they have to assist their families due to extreme poverty
- According to Sharma, no child wants to discontinue his or her studies but they also have to make their ends meet
They come to my school fighting hunger, extreme poverty, adverse weather and sometimes resistance from their families. They all dream big. You can see the smile on their face while they study here.
Six-year-old Sunita considers learning in this school as fun and she tries to be regular as much as possible. She says,
I want to achieve big in my life and that is why I come here every afternoon. Sometimes the school is closed due to bad weather like heavy rain or thunderstorm but my passion for studies never gets weakened.
Another student Suresh says teachers here are very supportive and encouraging and work very hard for every one. He quotes,
I never knew the value of education before coming here. Now I dream of becoming a successful and responsible person and want to support my family after the completion of my education.
There are several individuals in society who are doing their little bit by giving back to humanity. Imparting one’s knowledge and educating children not just helps in the growth of the child and the family, but enhances the society as a whole, making it a progressive and loving place to live in.
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