For the students and teachers at Government High School at Panjwar village, Harbhajan Singh (59) is not just a gardener. From counselling parents to getting at least fifty students enrolled in the school, collecting fund for a dining shed to arranging meals for the students, he plays a much bigger role in transforming the school, situated in the border district of Tarn Taran.
These efforts by Harbhajan, who himself is an illiterate, were recognized Friday when the Punjab School Education Secretary Krishan Kumar honoured him with an appreciation certificate and an identification card (ID), the two official documents which meant nothing less than a trophy for him. The education secretary honoured 45 employees- mostly principals and teachers- who are working to improve the condition of government schools. Harbhajan Singh was the only gardener be honoured.
Headmistress of the school Jeet Kaur told The Indian Express that Harbhajan has helped in improving Class X board results of the school this year by bringing students from their homes for extra classes and arranging food for them.
“The school is situated in a very backward village. Students hardly attend classes and only two out of 70 students cleared class X boards last year. This year, however, all 63 students in class X have cleared the examination. Harbhajan ji went door to door and brought students to school who used to remain absent. He even arranged food for the students through a gurdwara as we used to make them sit till evening for extra classes. mid-day meals are served only for students till class 8,” she says.
“He also went door to door to counsel illiterate parents like migrants and got enrolled at least 50 new students this session including those from private schools,” she adds.
Meanwhile, an elated Harbhajan Singh said that he will never forget the honour given to him. “Whatever I do, I do for the children. They are my own children. But who recognizes efforts of a class IV employee? I am an illiterate and could not read the appreciation letter given to me in English today by Krishan Kumar ji. I can only read Punjabi. So I told my son to read it for me. But the secretary sir’s words were enough for me. He said that he was aware of my good work,” the 59-year-old told The Indian Express.
“Students and other villagers call him taaya ji. Students fear him more than the teachers because if they miss the classes, he will reach their homes and bring them to school. He keeps a track of why a student is absent and if parents are in loop. He also gets announcements done on gurdwara loudspeaker regularly asking parents to send children to school,” said Jeet Kaur.
“Earlier he also got a borewell dug in the school getting help from NRIs as the drinking water was unhygienic. Recently, we collected Rs 1.38 lakh from villagers to construct a dining shed,” she added.
The headmistress added that Harbhajan Singh did not remain absent from the duty for a single day in the last six months. He has also beautified the campus through landscaping and planting new saplings.