Sandeep is a 12-year-old who can leap 13 feet in the long jump, ranks second in his class, and can calculate the cost of a dozen bananas in a split second if given the current rate. Till a year ago, he was a street child. Today, he is among 13 such children in west Delhi who have earned one of the top four positions in their respective classes.
In the last one year in west Delhi alone, 511 children have moved on from working as beggars, tea-stall helpers, housemaids and petty labourers to regular school. They have been accepted in 14 corporation schools in west Delhi with the effort of Chetna, an NGO that works to help children get off the streets and make something of themselves.
Sandeep and his friend Nitish love to jump. They usually practise in open areas around their slums and parks, competing against one another.
Five students, who were earlier street children, show off their mark sheets. They study in two corporation schools in west Delhi
Confident, they know how to survive
After joining school last year, both participated in the ward-wise athletic competitions, representing their school in Chunna Bhatti near Kirti Nagar. But, to Nitish’s dismay, they didn’t win anything. Nitish, sad that their jump sessions didn’t win them a medal, is a hardworking 12-year-old. He came second in his class this year, losing to a child who had to repeat the class because he had left school mid-way the year before. “I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the first position next year,” he said. But he pepped up when his teacher encouraged him to continue the hard work.
Both boys also love maths. Before joining school, they had to work as petty helpers, always dealing with money and making quick mental calculations. Having survived on the street without much parental guidance, these boys have strong survival skills, no confidence issues, and will not shy away from speaking their mind. According to their principal, this is their value addition to the class. “Several children who come from more protected families learn to be more outspoken and confident with them. These boys also are very mature for their age and their good behaviour sets an example for the others,” said Sanjay Kumar Sharma, the principal.
Sharma, who has been principal for 12 years, said while it is heartening to see children make a success of themselves, some of the brightest kids in his school miss out on a shining future because they end up leaving school. “It is not the parents who stop them from coming, as is the belief usually. Now the children decide whether they want to go to school or not,” he said, adding that about 15% of children always drop out.
Geeta, a volunteer teacher who takes care of the Chunna Bhatti community, said she has a tough time getting children to attend school. “The parents work for most part of the day and want their kids to be in school, from a safety point of view too. But the children want to hang out with friends and play in the parks. Convincing them is the main chore,” she said.
Her job as a Chetna volunteer is to make sure that the children enrolled in school make it to the classes. Every morning, she knocks on every door with an enrolled child and finds out if the kid is out to class. Then she goes to the class to find out if the child reached. “If they don’t come to school, I ask about their whereabouts and find them playing in parks.” But the assurance of a meal and time with new friends is making it easier to bring children to school. For those who don’t like to go to school, Geeta holds informal classes every day so that they at least are at par with their classmates and remain engaged in education.
With a network of volunteers spread over key working areas, the NGO has created communities with a high number of child labourers and streetchildren and linked them to the local corporation schools.
In west Delhi, it managed to get 235 girls and 276 boys enrolled in corporation schools. Volunteers held classes to help these kids cope with the pace of the class and catch up on lost reading and writing skills.
Sandeep, gifted with a sense of humour and arithmetic skills, wants to clinch the first position next year. He also wants to win a medal in the next long jump competition and will not miss his daily glass of milk. “We sometimes take an inch tape from home and measure our progress the way they do in competitions. My aim is to cross 13 feet,” he said.