March 22, 2021 2:34:09 am
When 11-year-old Pooja Kumar stopped attending school five years ago, she thought she would never get to study again. Her fortunes changed about a month ago when she found out about a makeshift school at the Tikri border farmers’ protest site.
Located near the main stage, the ‘school’ comprises two blackboards and has posters of the alphabet, multiplication tables, and names of fruits and animals. It was started by volunteers of a new group called Kisan Social Army for underprivileged children in the area.
Pooja, who stays near the border, said, “When I was younger, my father stopped taking me to school one day. After a few days, my name was struck off from the register. Over the years, I started doing housework.” She said her mother works at a hospital and her father sells shoes near the border.
She wrote numbers from 1-100 in her copy but her sixes were upside down. Correcting them, she said, “I forgot everything that I had learnt in my previous school. I am relearning it all.” Her four-year-old brother, Akash, who has never been to school, also attends the classes.
Ankur Sangwan (23), one of the volunteers, said around 40-50 children come here. After their classes for the day are complete, they are given food. Volunteers have also made arrangements for them to play badminton, cricket and football.
The food and sports were certainly a highlight for most students, as those who used to go to school said they have had to cook food and do housework since their schools shut due to the lockdown.
Anshu Kumar (11) said he studies at a government school in the area but does not enjoy studying online. His father, who has a shoe business, leaves his phone and goes to work. While Anshu passed his Class V exam and is ready for the new session, he said he likes this makeshift school better. “The teachers are nice, we get food on time and we get to play too,” he said.
Vikram (12) stopped studying since the lockdown. He said his parents work as labourers and ever since he stopped going to school, he and his elder brother, aged 14, have been taking care of the house. Now, he spends a majority of his day at the school.
Before the class started at 4 pm, the students recited the names of fruits and one of the older children explained their meanings in Hindi to the younger ones. Once the class commenced, the children sat in rows and resumed their lesson on numbers from 1-100.
Anoop Singh Chanot (29), a biomedical engineer with a farming background, is one of the three teachers at the school. He explained that the aim of the organisation is to try to get the children admitted to schools even after the protests are over. Volunteers said they would try to fund their school fees and books. The classes start at 4 pm and go on for an hour. Most children start coming in at 3.30 pm. The lessons depend on their age and capabilities. Sports starts from 5-6 pm and they eat around 6.30 pm.
A few minutes into the class, Jagdish (40), who has a shoe business nearby, dropped off his six-year-old daughter. “I drop her off here sometimes. With her school shut since the lockdown, I’m afraid she has forgotten everything in the last year,” he said.
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