Every evening the pavements of Bhudarpura in Ahmedabad’s Ambawadi locality wear a different look. It transforms into a classroom. School children from the nearby municipal school gather for their regular tutorials. On the opposite side of the street, there is a kitchen where food is prepared for them.
About 12 years ago, Kamal Parmar, who runs an auto and metal fabrication workshop near the slums of Bhudarpura, saw a small group of girls chatting and laughing on their way back from the nearby municipal school. “They were happy to have given their annual test, when inquired about the questions, they virtually knew nothing. One girl said that she had copied the entire question paper on the answer sheet. I found that students of Class VII could not distinguish between double digit numbers. This led me to start tutoring underprivileged children at my workshop after work hours,” says Parmar, who is now 64. Though, a school dropout himself, he has managed to show them the right way.
The four-hour evening classroom sessions emphasise on quality of teaching and patience. The school also provides free dinner to the students. Old students also return to teach in this school. “Being a metal fabricator, I started with desks and boards made in my own workshop, but now many come forward to donate books, food grains, blackboards and other necessary items. We also have students who come as voluntary teachers,” says Parmar.
The success of this initiative is evident as 150 children come daily from 5.30 pm onwards for their studies. Classes continue till 9.30pm. “I often ask the municipal school staff, why children learn so little in their school? They never have any answer,” Parmar says. “Children love coming here. We teach them about our country, democracy and what is it like being an Indian,” adds Parmar. The principal feature of the school is that it is interactive. He claims; his greatest reward is when his students can stand up with confidence to those from privileged families.
Reema Shah, a teacher at Mahatma Gandhi International School agrees, “My experience with these kids was amazing. One day I was passing through the street. I saw them learning, so I got down from my scooter and taught them for just 30 minutes. After that the love and affection I got from them was unbelievable. These children don’t get proper benches to sit, have no silence zone classrooms, the vehicles passing by make lots of noise, yet they pay 100 per cent concentration on what teachers tell them. This touched my heart.”
Students like Aadil Attarwala, Riya Dedhia and Prarthna, were surprised when they went to this school as part of the community work of Mahatma Gandhi International School. “We went there to teach,instead we learnt a lot from them. They are very fast learners. There grasping power is fast. Despite their difficulties they are taking initiative to learn and this is very fascinating,” say the MGIS students.
Recently, students of Lycee International St. Germain en Laye (France) volunteered to teach these children. “We decided to teach English, Maths and concepts through songs to the tiny tots. We divided them into groups of seven to eight kids with one French student. Teachers from Lycee International also supported the programme,” explains French student Jessica.