A Classroom and a Library on the Ganga Ghat
In the midst of the pandemic, in September 2020, two young women in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, started free coaching classes for children of daily wage labourers. From three kids, their ghat classroom strength has increased to 60. And there is a library too, which has received PM Narendra Modi’s appreciation.
Brijendra Dubey 18 Jan 2023 1:14 PM GMT
Baria Ghat (Mirzapur), Uttar Pradesh
Impervious to the din of traffic around her, Shikha Mishra is writing down numbers on a black board set up on the banks of the Ganga. Watching her with impatience are 30 children, trying to read what she is writing.
They are sitting at a clearing that is swept clean in Baria Ghat village in Mirzapur district, Uttar Pradesh. This is where Shikha Mishra and her friend Purnima Singh hold free classes for children in the neighbourhood.
“We have been friends since childhood. We coach the children here between four and five every evening,” 24-year-old Mishra, told Gaon Connection. She has completed her Masters in Anthropology at the Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi and is planning to do her PhD (Doctor of Philosophy). Her friend, Singh, is already a PhD scholar in Chemistry at the University of Allahabad in Prayagraj.
Every evening, the two young women come on their two-wheeler to teach children between five and 18 years of age. They live in the nearby Mahuvariya Mohalla that is about two kilometres away. Their students are predominantly children of daily wage labourers who live near the river’s ghat.
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While Mishra teaches the intricacies of Lowest Common Denominator (LCM) to the older children, Singh gets busy distributing notebooks and pencils to the younger ones, before teaching them numbers.
“We started these classes with just three children right in the middle of the pandemic, on 29 September, 2020. Now we have 60 children. More want to join us, but it becomes difficult for us to manage any more and we have to turn them away,” Mishra said.
“During the pandemic all government schools had shut down and many of these children did not have the means to attend online classes. That is when we began to teach them here,” Singh said. She described how dirty the ghat was before they started taking classes there. “It was dirty, there were people drinking and smoking here and it seemed unsafe,” she said.
Things have changed for the better now, ever since the free coaching classes have begun. “In the olden days people studied in the shade of trees out in the open. We are trying to bring back some of the same ambience here,” Singh added.
The coaching centre runs with the help of friends who often donate notebooks and other stationery to the children. Mishra and Singh also spend their allowances they get from their families. Their families are supportive of their work, they both said.
“My dadi (grandmother) came here to first talk to Poornima and Shikha didi, before I came here to study,” Unnati Kesharani, a class six student of Hindu Balika Government School, who comes here for extra classes, told Gaon Connection. “The didis teach us so many things. They have taught us to always be polite and well spoken, they taught us to be fearless, and they are teaching us English and Mathematics," she added. “And, every month we get new pencils and notebooks and erasers,” Unnati smiled happily.
A mobile library
Along with the coaching classes, Mishra and Singh also run a make-shift library for students. “We started the library and spread the word through our Facebook page. Readers wanting books would leave messages for us on the page and we would provide them with the books that they would have to come and read at the ghat for two hours,” Mishra explained.
In case someone wants to take the book home, they have to deposit the cost of the deposit and do so. They can keep the book free of charge for a week, after which they are charged Rs 5 for each extra day, she added.
Mishra and Singh's initiative caught the attention of the people in the area and soon, they featured in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s radio programme Mann Ki Baat.
On November 18, 2020, the prime minister referred to their initiative as a ‘chalta phirta pustakalay’ (a mobile library), and ever since the name stuck. “We have asked for a physical space to have the library and have submitted a petition to concerned authorities, but nothing has come of it yet,” Mishra said.