Education is certainly not to be taken for granted; it’s to be cherished. And that’s why two men collaborated with one another in a labor of love to help educate and shape the minds of underprivileged children who don’t have the opportunity to go to school. Under a bridge in Delhi, these compassionate teachers have created an environment for learning, and it’s here where these children are now receiving their education.
Rajesh Kumar (pictured below), in his 40s, is actually a shopkeeper by profession, yet every morning he teaches impoverished children from Delhi, primarily those from the slums surrounding the river Yamuna. Together with Laxmi Chandra, (pictured above), they’ve been teaching here for about 10 years.
When Kumar visited the building site of the Delhi transit station some years ago, he noticed many children without direction in life, and it pained him to consider that these young minds could go to waste if not nurtured.
Kumar asked why the children working on the construction site weren’t at school. The workers replied that there were no schools in the area; consequently, there was no opportunity for study.
That is when the large open-air classroom took shape. Under a bridge between the pillars, and below the tracks of the Delhi transit system, “Free School: Under the Bridge,” as it is called, was established.
“We took this place under the bridge so that when it rains, the kids have space to sit. And when it is hot, children have the shade to sit comfortably,” said Kumar.
When Kumar first formed the makeshift school, he had only two students. Later, his two-hour morning classes were held six days a week, with up to 80 students attending. By 2015, the number had increased to 200.
Now, there are over 300 boys and girls studying at Kumar and Chandra’s free school.
The student-teacher ratio in the makeshift classroom is similar to that of private schools in India.
Abhishek Kumar, 11, walks 2 kilometers every day to reach the bridge school, before going to his government school.
“They teach all subjects here. What you don’t know they explain that properly here. I used to get 40 percent earlier in school, now I score 90, 91, 92 percent. Sir teaches us well here,” said Abhishek Kumar.
Another student, 9-year-old Priyanka Kumari, said: “The teaching here is good, I like coming to this school. Sir gives work to do and then checks it and tells us where we went wrong.”
“In the Free School, they are assisted in completing the homework and understanding what they are taught at school. The time they spend here would also have been otherwise wasted in roaming around or gossiping,” said Kumar, as reported by The Better Indian.
He continues: “Many parents are unhappy with our school because they want their children to either work part-time jobs or look after their households or younger siblings. It takes a lot of convincing for the parents to allow their kids to come to the school. But once they understand that it’s for their children’s future, they agree.”
Every few minutes, a train passes above, but the children are so keen to learn they don’t let the racket of the steel wheels on the tracks disturb them.
Students are generally aged from 3 to 16, and they’re certainly happy to be together in an environment where they can develop their young minds.
“I don’t want this generation to lose out just because they are poor. I could not become an engineer because of financial constraints. I had to drop out of college. Through these children, I get to live my own dream. I will see them realize their dreams and soar high,” he continued.
In addition to the two teachers, some kindhearted individuals have been helping out where they can.
“It is only in the past few years that he has found more teachers and some media coverage for the school. As it falls on my way to work, I visit the school regularly and try to help in any small ways that I can. I recently gave 500 textbooks and some stationery items like pens, pencils and diaries. However, I wish I could do more,” said Dhananjay Singh, who works nearby.
One anonymous individual provides a bag full of biscuits and fruit juice for the students every day, which is a nice little incentive for the kids to turn up for their studies.
Other kind donors have given cardigans, books, shoes, and stationery to the children, as their parents are too poor to afford these simple necessities.
“When I give two hours of my time to these children, I feel very good, my soul feels at peace. People give money and other things, I donate education. My parents educated me and I’m giving a part of that to these children,” said Kumar.
“I always tell them—don’t cry for what you don’t have. Make the best of what you have to achieve what you don’t have today.”
Hats off to these amazing people who are doing such awesome work!