On the face of it, the group of 25-odd students of Anjali English Medium School (AEMS) appears like any other school students. They laugh, they fight and fool around. However, strike a conversation with them and you realise there’s much more to them. They think, and think deeply.
And the reason lies in an unfortunate incident that happened two years ago, when suddenly one of their classmates passed away due to some serious stomach-related ailment. It didn’t take much time for them to discover that the cause of their classmate’s disease was unhygienic conditions he stayed in the Ramwadi slum, near Wadgaonsheri, Vimannagar.
In October 2014, when their teacher Amrita Mallick, whom they address as ‘didi’, asked them to give their suggestion for community work under project Maya 2.0, the students unanimously offered to work in Ramwadi. Maya 2.0 is a project initiated by the Teach For India (TFI), which aims to develop leadership skills in students.
Mallick, who works as a TFI fellow, said, “The reason is that mere academic excellence does not contribute to overall development of the child. A child’s stakeholder in his development is his principal, teachers, parents and every person with whom he or she interacts. The idea was to give students an experiential set-up, wherein they had to work with a particular community and they chose to work in Ramwadi.”
AEMS gets students from low-income families, residing in Wagholi, Ganeshnagar, Chandannagar and other nearby areas. Some kids also stay in slums. The students who worked on this project are currently in 7th grade, although they started taking active part in Maya 2.0 project in December 2015, when they first visited Ramwadi.
Ramwadi has issues related to drainage, water-logging, garbage and sanitation. “The kids had to make people realise what are their problems, the reasons and how they can address them,” adds Mallick. So, post school hours, three days of the week were dedicated to community visits and three days were spent discussing their experience.
Sharing his experience, one of the students, Ravi Paswan, says, “When didi (fellow) informed us that we will have to visit Ramwadi and interact with people, I was scared. Earlier, when I had visited this place, some of the kids had got into a fight with me for no reason. Initially, people were apprehensive to talk to us. It took a couple of visits for them to get familiar with us. We identified many problems but the primary problem was toilets and drainage system.”
Komal Singh, another student, “We became friends with the Ramwadi children and slowly, they brought their parents to our meetings.” In the meetings, it was decided to collaborate with NGO Samagraha to solve the sanitation problem.