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Sky Above My Head

A Kolkata collective offers free education to underprivileged kids.


Updated: February 11, 2018 12:00:06 am
Gariahat flyover, Kolkata, Mita Tarafder, National Metallurgical Laboratory (CSIR), Jamshedpur, Kolkata, Dendrite, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, Afsana, goddess Saraswati, idli, Indian Statistical Institute, indian express, indian exress news Bloom: Afsana, 8, studies with Kolkata Roadside Classrooms

On a cold Sunday afternoon in January, 12 children have gathered to study under the Gariahat flyover in Kolkata. Most haven’t showered because of no access to warm water, others have succumbed to cold trickles to stay clean. Home is under the same flyover. Today they are excited to learn art and craft. Started in August 2017 by Mita Tarafder, a senior scientist with the National Metallurgical Laboratory (CSIR) in Jamshedpur, Kolkata Roadside Classrooms (KRC) works with a group of mentors and facilitators who help children from the low-income bracket with education. KRC’s main aim is to assist children between the ages of five and 16 who either drop out of school or need assistance with studies. “Most children dropped out because their families couldn’t afford the fees or the children lost interest in school. One of them has a drug problem and is addicted to sniffing adhesives such as Dendrite,” says Dr. Prasun Das, a KRC facilitator who is also a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

Earlier this month, 12-year-old Raja was re-admitted into a local government school in Class VII. The idea, eventually, is to reinstate all the kids back into regular schools, while deliberately maintaining an informal teaching structure, so as to keep the children interested. For furniture, the children use a broken wooden cart and discarded benches. Apart from art, they also learn music, arithmetic, reading simple words, and nursery rhymes. Facilitators have tried to acquaint them with dance too, but the children, particularly girls, have inhibitions — the man who sells idli two feet away might watch them, as may the kaku selling idols of goddess Saraswati. “We are looking for a closed space to ensure focused study without noise,” says Lakshmi Kundu, a learning consultant with IBM and another facilitator. But she’s also worried that the children might be uncomfortable in a closed space: if you’ve lived your life on the streets, it can get difficult to adapt to controlled — and smaller — spaces.

A short walk down the main Gariahat road leads you to spaces where enthusiastic chess championships are held, and second-hand bookstalls thrive. And now on Sundays, there are vivacious kids, learning skills for a better tomorrow. By the time the learning session ends two hours later, Raja and Suraj have sketched out similar images of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. Eight-year-old Afsana has traced out her palm on multiple sheets of coloured paper, cutting and assembling them to make a wall hanging, only to realise that her home lacks a wall. But she is smiling, still.

Chandni Doulatramani is a writer based out of Kolkata

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