That school on the banks of the Ganga
Nitin Kumar's parents couldn't afford to buy him notebooks and pencils when he was a kid. Now a law student, he runs an open school on the banks of the Ganga with the help of other volunteer teachers. 150-odd students from nearby slums come here every evening. What's unique? Apart from regular subjects, teachers also teach them French, Sanskrit, basics of Indian classical music and cricket.
Edited by: Swati Subhedar
Suyash Shadiza & Rajiv Shukla
If you are visiting Kamleshwar Ghat in Kanpur in the evening, chances are that you will bump into kids from impoverished background reciting Sanskrit shlokas, throwing some very basic French at you and even practicing surs and taals of Indian classical music.
Nitin Kumar, a law student who is also preparing for his civil services exams, and some of his friends, have opened a school – popularly known as ghaat wala school – with an intention of imparting education for free to kids who can't afford to pay tuition fees. Some of them are so poor that they can't even afford to buy basics like pencils and notebooks.
150-odd kids – from nursey to 12th standard, and mostly studying in government schools -- arrive here every evening. Most of them have to cross the river to reach here, but such is their zeal to learn that they don't miss their school even on rainy days when it isn't very safe to traverse from one end to the other. Some kids even bring their mothers along who attend classes with them.
What's unique about this school, or coaching centre as they call it, is that the founder – Nitin Kumar – and his group of volunteer-friends have not restricted themselves to teaching them regular subjects like Maths and Science. They teach them everything from Sanskrit, to French, basics of Indian classical music and even some cricketing tricks.
Talking about the school, Nitin said: "When I was in school, my parents struggled to buy pencils and notebooks for me. My mother used to work as a domestic help and father was unemployed. We were four brothers and sisters. My mother was not educated, but to educate us, she started working as a house help. I have known what is to be like deprived. I don't want other kids to suffer."
He had to struggle a lot to reach where he is now.
Though he opened the coaching centre only recently, Nitin started teaching children living in slums soon after he completed his 10th. By the time he reached 12th, many students used to come to his house to learn.
Nitin, however, had a rider. He taught only those kids who promised to teach others kids free of cost.
"Though it was convenient for me when kids started coming home, but some children whose parents were ragpickers or other kids belonging to very poor families would hesitate to come. This is why I opened this coaching centre at the ghaat," said Nitin.
"When I started it with my friend Anant, only 4-5 kids used to come. We would spend money from our pocket money to buy pencils and notebooks for them. Then gradually the number of students kept going up and we started falling short of resources. But luckily more friends joined us. While some started providing material support, others started teaching," he added.
Nitin's friend Anant is from Fatehpur. He is an aspiring cricketer and trains at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur, but he comes to the ghaat regularly to teach these kids basics of cricket and also trains them to be fit. "Physical fitness is as important as theoretical learning. Every Sunday is reserved for physical activities. This way kids stay motivated," said Anant.
Nandini Upadhyay, Vishnu and Siddhartha are some of the other volunteer-teachers who also help with fund-raising and material collection. They even helped some of the kids with school admissions and are paying their fees.
Once a kid asked Nitin for additional pair of pencil and notebook. "The kid said his mother is illiterate, but she wanted him to teach her. That's when I came up with the idea to teach their mothers as well. Every day these kids cross the river and come to the school. On Sundays, we cross the river, go to their homes and teach their mothers," said Nitin.
One such mother who studies here, Nirmala Devi, said: "I had to quit studies while I was young. But now I have started again, thanks to them. Now I can write my name. I sign my bank documents. I can count currency."
Most of the kids who study here used to do odd jobs to help their parents financially. Deepak, who studies here, used to work at a sweet shop. "I also worked at a shop that used to sell alcohol. I would serve people food and alcohol. But my life changed after I started coming to this ghaat wala school," said Deepak who enjoys learning Sanskrit.
"Someone once asked me how much do I manage to earn through this job. I told the person that teaching these kids gives me immense satisfaction and the love that they give me can't be compared to any kind of monetary compensation," said Arpita Verma, one of the volunteers.