At first glance, it gives you the impression of an ordinary hut. But as you get closer, you’ll notice a small blackboard hanging inside with some 30-odd children sitting with their notebooks and pencils.
Located in slums of Hambran road in Dairy complex area, the school was started two years ago by advocate Hari Om Jindal (50) for the children here.
Once engaged in making a living from picking rags, these children now boast of going to ‘school’. Now, Kajal (10) knows the English alphabet and can do basic arithmetic. Rahul (9) and Ajay (8) have bid adieu to ragpicking and have taken to books. Later in the day, they help their parents, who are mostly daily wagers, in domestic chores.
This Independence Day, Jindal’s dedication and contribution will be honoured by Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal at Mohali.
The idea for the slum school, came after the government failed to respond to Jindal’s suggestion.
The Right to Education Act (RTE) mandates that education is a basic right of every child.
He had proposed that government send a resource person, as mandated in RTE, to this slum as the children could not travel to the nearest school. “I never got a positive response and then I started on my own,” he said.
The school started of with just 12 students, and now has a strength of 30. “These kids who once picked rags don’t do it anymore. They now help their parents in making cow dung cakes,” said Jindal.
The school also experimented with a one-hour class for poor women in the area. “Due to their family commitments, there were only five women initially which went up to eight or 10 on some days. But even if there is one woman, the class is open for her.”
When Jindal realised that he could not teach everyday due to his professional commitments, he hired two teachers.
“My work requires me to remain away from the city. It was with great difficulty that we had convinced parents of these children to send them to school. Since the entire slum is surrounded by garbage dumps, there is a lot of stray cattle. Parents said that if the kids move out, they might be attacked. Indeed, a few children have been attacked here since we started. We then built a hut, which now serves as the school,” said Jindal.
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It wasn’t easy getting teachers and convince them to come to this area surrounded by filth. “Then I met Rohit, a class IX student and son of a tea stall owner. He agreed to teach for a payment of Rs 100 per student. Another teacher Saroj, agreed to teach for Rs 8,000 per month,” he said.
What is special about Jindal’s school is it goes beyond teaching the usual academic curriculum. “Apart from alphabet and mathematics we teach the children about the Indian Constitution, their rights, public property, cleanliness of public areas, public money and taxes. They now feel confident to face the world,” said Jindal. He is also writing a book on children’s rights. “If a child is born in a poor family it is not her or his fault. They too aspire to fly. I just want to give them wings,” said Jindal.