NEW DELHI SHOPKEEPER
HELPS POOR KIDS
‘The Free School Under The Bridge’, where hundreds of children living in shacks and hutments close to the Yamuna Bank metro station get education, is run by its founder Rajesh Kumar Sharma.
Hoping to change the lives of the capital’s have-nots, a shopkeeper in Delhi has been running a makeshift school for more than 300 underprivileged children beneath a metro bridge in the Yamuna Bank area for the last over eight years without any assistance neither from the government nor any NGOs.
The sole breadwinner of his family of five who live in Laxmi Nagar, Sharma belongs to Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district and runs a small grocery shop in the same locality to support his family.
The 49-year-old’s journey of teaching more than 300 children of slum dwellers, ragpickers, rickshaw-pullers and beggars began with two children in 2006 when the idea came to his mind while wandering around the empty fields close to the Yamuna river.
Today, he runs two shifts -- one from 9-11 AM for 120 boys and the other 2-4.30 PM for 180 girls -- with the help of seven teachers who live in nearby areas and in their free time, volunteer to teach the students – aged between four and 14 years.
The open house school, whose roof is a Delhi metro bridge, has five blackboards painted on the wall of the metro complex and some stationary such as chalks and dusters, pens and pencils.
The children, who sit on the ground covered with carpets, bring their own note books and study in groups. The place is far from traffic and the noise of frequently passing metro trains hardly gets noticed by the students.Sharma, who could not complete his B.Sc and dropped out of college due to his family’s poor financial condition, says that no one should be deprived of education due to poverty and to fulfil his or her dream, he dedicates over 50 hours a week to the children.
Although he started the movement of educating the poor children on his own, Sharma is now assisted by teachers Laxmi Chandra, Shyam Mahto, Rekha, Sunita, Manisha, Chetan Sharma and Sarvesh who take classes on their free will and none of them get paid for the deed.
Sharma says that he has never been approached by any government representative for any kind of assistance although he has seen many regime changes ever since he started his journey 13 years ago. However, he has no complaints against anyone, saying “I am driven by my selfless goal of educating these poor and underprivileged children whose smile is more than enough for me.” “Initially some NGOs contacted me and tried to be associated with the makeshift school but I never allowed them as they all looked suspicious. None of them were serious about the children’s education and their future. “All they were interested in was making money by showing something and claiming something else. I did not approve of their way of functioning which had many loopholes and room for discrepancies,” he said.