A roadside school

Rajesh Kumar Sharma teaches underprivileged children under a Metro bridge

A torn rug to sit on, a metro bridge for a roof, a patch of wall painted black for a blackboard and a shopkeeper for a teacher. This may look like a scene out of a Hindi movie but is the everyday reality of 39 children from villages near the Yamuna bank.

Rajesh Kumar Sharma (40), started this makeshift school a year ago. Five days a week, he takes out two hours to teach when his younger brother replaces him at his general store in Shakarpur. His students are children of labourers, rickshaw-pullers and farm workers. His three children go to regular schools in Mayur Vihar.

Compelled to quit college in the third year of his BSc due to financial constraints, Sharma says he does not want anyone to meet the same fate. "Whenever I passed by this area, I would notice that children were spending all their time in the fields or playing around," he says. Parents wanted their children to work instead of going to school as they would add to the family income. He argued with the parents and persuaded many of them.

Sharma, who came to Delhi from Aligarh 20 years ago, has been teaching underprivileged children in other parts of the city too. "I mostly taught labourers' children. As they moved from site to site, it got difficult to follow them everywhere," he says.

Sharma starts at the basics and goes on to prepare the children for admission to government schools. He started with approximately 140 students, and 70 of them are in government schools now. "They still come here everyday. I manage to keep them ahead of the school curriculum," Sharma says with pride.

Sharma's students are just as proud of him. "Our teacher has told us that when poverty strikes, you should open your mind, and that can be done only through education," says 15-year-old Abhishek who studies at the local Rajkiya Pratibha Vikas Vidyalaya. He enjoys studying English and aspires to become an engineer. He spends two hours in Sharma's class under the bridge and then goes to school at 1 pm. Sharma says once Abhishek even corrected his teacher at school who had not solved a sum correctly.

Sharma even allows students too young for school to sit in the class as he believes this would inspire them. He is assisted by a tuition teacher, Laxmi Chandra, a postgraduate who teaches science. "I don't take attendance. They love coming here because there are no school-like boundaries. In fact, I want to keep it like that," he says. Most of his students only have notebooks which he gets with the help of social workers who visit him occasionally. Those who get books from their schools pass them on to younger students.

Sharma says his achievement is the change in attitude of the parents who now encourage their children to study.

"They understand that if children in the villages in the interiors of the country can go to schools, why not in the national capital."

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