Mohammad Nishan (19) had planned to travel from Kerala’s Malappuram to Srinagar as part of a long trip with friends earlier this month.
The group of three had to stop in Delhi for a day to pick up a friend before travelling to Shimla, and later to Kashmir. But they abandoned their travel plans at Singhu border, where they are now helping teach children from nearby slums and villages in a temporary school at the protest site.
The school was started by a few protesters three weeks ago after they saw several children, mostly ragpickers from the Delhi-Haryana borders, milling around.
“I saw a lot of young children at the protest site. They would see us and start shouting slogans with us, but they were emulating, not learning,” said Kanwaljeet Kaur (30), a teacher-trainer from Amritsar who has been part of the protest for over three weeks now.
The school started with 12 children, who would come to the site each day to pick up garbage.
Three weeks down the line, eight volunteers — three of them permanent — are teaching 90 children between 11 am and 2 pm each day.
When Nishan and his friends joined the protest on Monday, volunteering at the school seemed like the easiest step, despite a language barrier — he and his friends do not speak Hindi and the children speak nearly no English.
“We taught them numbers and alphabets, mostly through actions. Kids catch on very fast. They also love to draw,” said Nishan, as they wrote ‘Kisan mazdoor ekta zindabad’ in Malayalam on a poster. A man from Punjab sat with them, outlining the letters with a black pen. He does not understand the language.
On Tuesday, Ravi and his friends drew on a chart paper that six others shared. They would have otherwise spent this time looking for plastic bottles to sell, he said.
At the school, Kaur says the excitement levels are high.
“We thought we would have to drag the children here but after the first few days, we have had to make no effort to get children here. We had decided that we would teach them only English and Hindi as we did not want to impose our language on them, but a group of five children insisted that they wanted to learn Punjabi as well, so we teach that as well now,” she said.
Gurdeep Singh (37) is also among the farmers who are volunteering at the school.
“The older children now bring their siblings who are 3-4 years old. We are learning to tackle them as they require a different kind of care. Most who come here have never been to school. Those who have, have not seen the inside of a school in almost a year as schools in Delhi haven’t reopened because of the pandemic. They energy is infectious,” he said.
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