INSPIRING: He started school under a bridge in Mumbai, and now his students are IIT-Aspirants
by Kumar Tiwari
It all began in 2013 when I was pursuing CA at Thakur College of Commerce and Arts. One fine August evening, when I was returning home, I came across a bunch of kids frolicking happily in the rain. I fondly went on to interact with them and found out that they were actually out there during school time. I learnt that these kids were only enrolled to school to avail the mid-day meal. They were also put into classes as per their age, not their aptitude. Thus, many of them were studying in higher classes without the knowledge of basic alphabets.
This enraged me. I took the decision to spend at least 5 hours every day towards educating these kids. I started visiting them every morning and observed that all the kids left at 9 AM sharp every day; only to go to a temple and beg for alms.
Disheartened, I went up to the kids and bought them food while promising them that they never have to beg for food as long as he is there to educate them. The next day, I set up a little class of my own under the bridge with a whiteboard and a few notebooks. I asked my friend Payal to help me with these kids to which she happily agreed. Eventually, I started spending more time with the kids. I spent Diwali with them. On many days, they shared their food with me. Soon, I grew a strong emotional bond with the children and earned their trust.
When my friends and neighbours saw the incredible progress in these kids, they started helping me in a lot of ways. Despite all the troubles I went through to help these kids, I found the experience extremely rewarding.
After I finished my undergraduate, I wanted to enrol these kids into credible schools to secure their future. But with kids between the ages of 2.5 to 14 years, it was a hard task to cover their tuition fees and other school needs.
Eventually, I contributed some of my savings and also received some financial help from animal activist Christian Lobo, I finally managed to enrol these kids into good private schools.
My work got some limelight after a national news platform interviewed me under the flyover and wrote about my accomplishments with the kids. Thereafter, I was on the radar of several big-scale media houses who supported me to include more kids in my school under the flyover. My work soon gained more validation as my past students were doing brilliantly at their new schools. I went on to recruit 50 more kids in the second year!
I remember my student Akash, whom I met when he was in 8th Standard. I helped to enrol him in a good school and he expressed his wish to prepare for IIT-entrance. Then I admitted him to IIT-entrance coaching in 9th Standard. Today, he is in 12th Standard and will appear for his dream exam soon.
With some of my students now winning awards in different fields, I started taking them to Essel World, Wat media and other places for them to gain more exposure while having some fun. I was invited by a radio channel and was awarded the title of ‘Mumbai Ka Asli Hero.’
Problems arose when I had to use the funds to provide the kids with private hospital treatment when they fell sick. I was being praised and applauded but when I needed help with the funds, no one took a step forward. Now that the future of these kids was at stake, I decided to revive hope. With the help of tuitions and by selling handmade artworks I managed to pay their fees.
As metro construction work began in the city, I and my students were suddenly left without a roof over their head. After so many failed attempts to get enough funding, I came up with a plan of ‘Gurukul’ (self-sustainable community living). My plan could foster 400 more street kids along with the current ones and their parents, who agreed to support their kids’ education by sustainable methods such as organic farming, pottery, and other agro-based cottage industries. After structuring the whole model and finding a good plot of land, I now had to bring in the capital. I tweeted directly to the PM of India and other government authorities but most of my appeals went overlooked.
I have now decided to rent a school building and make the community project prototype work with around 60% underprivileged students and the rest with children from a well-to-do background in order to help sustain the underprivileged. Though I have convinced a landlord to rent a school building for 5 years, I currently need help to raise money to pay a deposit of 10 lakhs after which I can generate income to pay the rent.
Kumar Tiwari is a 24-year-old volunteer for Jagriti Yatra.
Article first appeared on Efforts for Good.