Mining young minds: This Jharkhand man runs three schools for underprivileged
Dev Kumar Verma had to toil in a Dhanbad coal mine as a child. But that didn't stop from studying in IIM. A manager at BCCL, he now runs three schools for poor children.
JHARKHAND: Dev Kumar Verma, a manager at the Bharat Coking Coal Limited (BCCL), was appointed as a district election in-charge in his village Katras, Dhanbad, during the 2014 Lok Sabha polls.
To train other staffers, he had to visit government schools which served as training centres. At one of the schools, Verma was stunned when he stumbled upon some leave applications of Class IX and X students, kept in a classroom, with spelling and grammatical errors.
What also disturbed him was that the teachers had accepted the applications without pointing out the mistakes.
Taking up the matter, his wife, Priyanka Kumari, an alumna of IIT (ISM)-Dhanbad and an assistant professor at BIT Sindri, wrote to Jharkhand chief minister Raghubar Das and education minister Neera Yadav but to no avail.
Disappointed by the government's approach and the poor education standard in schools prompted Verma and Kumari to take matters into their hands.
In the next five years, the couple went on to establish three schools, named 'Pathshala', with more than 400 children, mostly engaged in picking and smuggling of coal in the region, being provided with free education up to Class VI.
An alumnus of IIM-Lucknow and NIT-Durgapur, Verma spends almost his entire salary on the schools' infrastructure.
Born to a paan shop owner and coal labourer in Dhanbad district's Katras village, Verma too had to work along with father in mines for hours.
He and other children of his age were exposed to filthy conditions, coal dust, silica dust and noxious fumes.
Despite the odds, Verma did not give up his studies and performed exceptionally well in the Class X examinations, thanks to the guidance of his teachers.
“When I joined the BCCL in 2010, I realised that whatever I am today is just because of my education. Hence, I always wanted to do something for my village. In the first four years, I was posted in Kolkata. But my posting in Dhanbad in 2014 was a turning point in my life,” says Verma. To begin with, the BCCL officer transformed his ancestral home into a free tuition facility for underprivileged children of his village.
"Initially, with only five students, I invested Rs 1,000 for making their sitting arrangements, which kept on increasing gradually," he says. When the number of enrolments increased up to 100, they decided to register the centre, and that’s how Pathshala came into being in 2014. Buoyed by the success, they built another school on their ancestral land, 4 km from the first one, exclusively for child coal-pickers. And finally, the third one came up two years later. “Now, the total strength has gone up to 400 children with 19 dedicated teachers along with 4-5 cleaning staff," Verma says.
The schools are equipped with projectors, laptops, biometric attendance, RO water purifier, separate toilets for boys and girls, playgrounds etc, he adds. All students get free books, stationery, uniforms, and transport. To encourage students to attend classes, he has even opened bank accounts for each of the students in which Rs 100 are deposited by him every month for their expenses. But with a precondition that they can't miss out on any classes.
In recent years, his friends have come forward to support the initiative with donations ranging from Rs 100 to Rs 10,000.“I am a poor man and cannot afford a private school. One of the teachers in Pathshala had requested me to send my children to the school and they could study there free of cost,” says Vijay Kumar Bauri, a plumber, whose son studies in Class III and daughter in Class II. Both have been studying in of the Pathshalas since nursery. Verma now wants to start a high school.