Dream School: Where children from a slum in Lucknow, are encouraged to dream big
An initiative of the Vishalakshi Foundation in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, gives flight to the dreams of underprivileged families by providing them free education.
Divendra Singh 24 Feb 2023 8:01 AM GMT
Lucknow (Uttar Pradesh)
At 3 pm in the afternoons, most of the residents who live in shanty towns in the area near Janeshwar Mishra Park in Gomti Nagar, Lucknow, are out at work. A majority of them work as casual labourers in the capital city of Uttar Pradesh. But inside some of the homes, there is scurrying about as children pack their school bags. The children emerge in ones and twos from their tarpaulin homes and, holding hands, walk about 200 metres where their classroom awaits them.
Strips of bamboo make up the classroom’s walls and the children will sit on bamboo mats on the floor. This is their Dream School.
Two years ago, in January 2021, in the place where the Dream School stands today was a garbage dump. When Alind Agarwal and his friends came upon it, they undertook to just clean up the area.
“We decided to quietly go about cleaning up and not make a big deal of it,” Agarwal told Gaon Connection.
A clean start
“We borrowed shovels and brooms and began the work. We worked for three whole days and were joined by the people who lived here and in nearby places, including the children. And, we cleared the area of the garbage,” the 25-year-old Agarwal said.
After the area was cleaned, Agarwal and his companions asked the children who had helped them if they went to school. Most of them said they did not. That is when the idea of setting up the Dream School came up. It began with three children, and now there are more than 75 children who study there.
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It was the Vishalakshi Foundation that made the formation of the school happen. The foundation, based in Lucknow was started in 2019 by Nilay Agarwal in memory of his friend Vishalakshi who had passed away the previous year, in 2018. The foundation is a non-profit which works on the mission of eradicating hunger and promoting literacy in the country. Setting up Dream Schools is one of its key projects. Besides Lucknow, there are Dream Schools functioning in several places including Gurugram in Haryana, Pulwama in Jammu & Kashmir and Simdega in Jharkhand.
The school is also unique because all the teachers who teach the kids do so free of cost. Most of them are either still students themselves or working somewhere. Yet, they take out a couple of days each day to teach the children.
Young volunteers are the wind beneath the wings of the children
“I have a regular 10 am to 6 pm job. Still, I manage to take two hours leave to come and teach the children here. My office colleagues know about this initiative,” Agarwal said. “It is good to be part of an initiative that will give these children a chance to do well in life,” he added.
It does not just stop with taking time off to teach the children. While teachers ensure they learn Hindi, English, mathematics, and art, they also help the children get admission into regular government schools, said Agarwal.
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Mansi Singh is doing her Masters in Social Work in Lucknow University. She has been coming to the Dream School for six months now. “ I had come here for some field work for five days. Before that I was not even aware that there were children like this who were not going to school. I have been coming here ever since to teach them,” Mansi told Gaon Connection. “The children wait eagerly for me to come and I come here straight after college,” she added.
One of her students is eight-year-old Mohammad Kamil. He lives by the railway line that passes about 50 metres from the Dream School. “I want to be a doctor,” Kamil told Gaon Connection.
For Suman, an 11-year-old student, this is her first experience of school. “My father is a bricklayer and my mother works as a domestic help. I have been coming here ever since the school started, ”she told Gaon Connection. She said she waited impatiently to come to school. “I want to become a teacher too, like my teachers here,” Suman said.
Nourishment for body and mind
Vishalakshi Foundation has another initiative called Project Hunger. This is feeding the hungry in 11 cities such as Delhi, Lucknow, Gurugram, NOIDA, Ranchi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Amroha, Fatehpur, Banda and Prayagran. More than 3000 young volunteers are associated with the project that feeds approximately 5000 people every day.
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