“Maths is my favourite subject.”
I stared at the little boy with the million-dollar smile. He flashed his answer sheet as evidence. “See, didi. A 36 out of 40!”
“That’s 90%.” I nodded. “Excellent.” Now I know for a fact. These are the people nature is preparing for any climate change disasters that might be on their way. We need scientists and mathematicians. And the little kids at Vidya completely agree.
The children at Bal Vihar, Panchsheel Park (Delhi) are an animated lot. They jostle for space as we prepare the camera. No one is initially willing to share the limelight but, with time, come to us in groups of threes and fours. “Didi hamara bhi photo lo na.” (Didi, please click our picture too.) And their photo we click. Replete with V for Victory signs and photogenic laughter. So much for our assuming we are cool. The kids are a way ahead for they started so young!
At lunch time, there are two teachers on duty. They scoop khichadi into the kids’ tiffin boxes. A few of them don’t join the queue. “We get food from home.” they say. “Mamma makes paratha.” She does that before she leaves for the day’s work – cleaning, washing and scrubbing in nearby localities. Pappa is usually driving or working as a mason, servant or peon. Financially weak they well may be but they are definitely proud parents! Their kids learn English, Computers, Science, Theatre, Music, you name it. They rattle off dialogues for a skit on Annual Function Day – the picture of confidence. Their faces are radiant with laughter, enjoying the welcome photo-break that the Didis and Bhaiyas from Pune have brought for them.
Away in Munirka, a number of young women are engaged in sewing lessons. Several have mehandi all over their arms, courtesy Kadwa Chauth. “I am in B.A. Second Year.” says one of them, looking no older than a high school-er. Ditto for the women in Vidya’s IIT Delhi center, who are trying their best to clear Class Tenth examinations. “So will you be appearing for the exam next year?” we ask. “If we learn well enough before that.” they smile. “And we will.” One look at their dedication – turning up for classes after a morning spent in manual labour – and I completely agree.
Since its inception in 1984, Vidya has spread out to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Delhi, Haryana, Mumbai and Bangalore. They get support from some corporate houses, charitable institutions and trusts. To say nothing of the contribution that the volunteers play in its functioning. Since it is a completely not-for-profit organization, the monetary remuneration is insignificant. But Vidya pays very well. Pounds and pounds of laughter, delight and learning.
My association with Vidya India started as part of a project. Two days down and the happiness is infectious. It comes from the alphabet books which the children expertly read from. It comes from the smile on the woman’s face when she nails a Maths problem. It comes from the sunshine, the colours on the notice board and the melody of the prayer-song.
Finally, it comes best from nothing else but the joy that education and empowerment bring.
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