CHENNAI: Solomon’s evenings are very different from those of his 22-year-old peers. Perched on a platform on Singer Street in Broadway, he is surrounded by a dozen children between the ages of six and 14 — some of them chanting verses from the Thirukkural, some deep in thought over their arithmetic workbooks. As someone from the homeless community himself, Solomon decided during the lockdown that it was a good time to start evening tuitions for his young friends, all from homeless families nearby.
He feared that staying away from school for months together would cause the children to lose their interest and will to learn. “The families here don’t have access to mobile phones, so there was no question of online classes. When I started the tuitions, the children came reluctantly, but it has now become a regular affair. Now, even if I’m unable to take classes for a day, the children call on my mobile phone and ask why I haven’t come,” says Solomon.
Solomon’s family has lived off Frazer Bridge Road, in a makeshift tent made of tarpaulin sheets, for at least two generations. His father was a loadman and his mother, a domestic help. “When you’ve stayed in a place for so long, even if it is a footpath of a busy road, it becomes home,” he says. “I wanted to do something for the children. All of us know each other; the homeless families on the nearby streets are either family or have become family over the years,” Solomon explains.
The 22-year-old has a reputation on the streets — of being the only one from the homeless community there to have ‘seen’ college. The parents of other children consider him a good influence on their kids, and a role model to emulate. “I enrolled at Pachaiyappa’s College for the BA (Economics) course in English medium. But after completing a year, I was forced to drop out and start working since my father had health issues,” he recounts. Since he hasn’t graduated, Solomon fears teaching the 20-odd children in the locality incorrectly. “I only teach up to Class 8. Now, I’m more confident, but earlier I was scared of getting the concepts wrong. So I would train myself whenever I had time.
But I realised that what really matters is to keep them engaged and interested in the process of learning. I think I have achieved that,” he shares. Solomon now teaches children from Classes 2 to 8, all belonging to Corporation and Government schools, in two batches — on Singer Street and Ratan Bazaar on alternate days. “On Singer Street, the family of one of the students graciously lends us their house (a makeshift tent) for an hour in the evenings so I can teach there. But in Ratan Bazaar, I teach on the platform off the road, where the children are easily distracted, watching people walk or fight, since its a market and there’s always something going on,” he says. Solomon now hopes to teach more homeless children in other localities, and is looking for people to help him — either by taking classes or by offering him space to conduct tuitions.