By Kirthi Jayakumar, Founder & CEO of the Red Elephant Foundation
Come 4:00 PM, and anyone in the vicinity will tell you that this is a common sight every day: a group of children, chatting, laughing and talking, walk to a house with books, pencils and stationery in tow. For some, it is after school hours, and for some, it is the sole window of “school hours.” But make no mistake – they are not heading to a regular school, but rather, to a true home of learning. The kindly lady who lights candles of enlightenment, Ritu Abbhi, settles these children down into the day’s class. The children gravitate towards her, undoubtedly, like a field full of sunflowers do, to the sun.
In a matter of moments, it becomes clear why. Across the expanse of her living room, these little ones are learning under the watchful eye of their guru. Ritu is in her element when she teaches them, laughing along with the children, encouraging them, teaching them, and all the while, being the wind beneath their sails.
In a day and age where quality education remains the privileged prerogative of a few, there is much to be said about initiatives like Ritu’s. Welcoming children of different ages, predominantly from underprivileged backgrounds, her classes help those that already go to school to study and, in addition, help those that don’t have the luxury of going to school.
Ritu’s initiative has its roots in her altruism. “I have always been inclined towards social work and helping those in need. I have made it a point to take up some kind of social work or the other, in all the places I have lived in, whether it was in the North-Eastern part of the country or in the nation’s capital, Delhi. I am also associated with the Social and Development Research and Action Group (SADRAG), an NGO, and am also a member of the eminent Lioness Club. We regularly go to villages for our projects, where we work with people. While on these projects, I thought that I should start something for the village children who lived around where I live.”
What started off as an idea soon took shape. Ritu spoke to some of the maids in the area, and educated them about basic cleanliness, literacy, banking and other things that helped them become self-sufficient. With time, she showed her eagerness to teach their children – for those that did go to school, there would be tuitions, and for those that couldn’t afford school, Ritu’s home would turn into one. “The response was overwhelming – and from the very next day, children started pouring into my living room. I’ve bought books, stationery, registers and other supplies for them to use.”
Open to children aged from five until fourteen, the only criteria Ritu emphasises on is that the children must be from a background where access to education or supportive education is barred owing to financial constraints. “Some of the students do go to school but they can’t learn at home since the parents or guardians are illiterate and do not have time to attend to their children’s needs. I teach them all subjects being taught at schools according to the level they are each exposed to, which includes maths, language, science and social studies.”
Working with their needs in mind, Ritu asks them their preferences and needs, and helps the children accordingly. “I help these children with their homework given at whichever school they go to, and prepare them for their exams. Some of the children do not go to school at all – and for them, I teach everything from scratch. Along with the regular educational curriculum, I teach the children how to remain clean and healthy.” Sustaining interest, especially among children, is a challenge in its own right. “All work and no play is not a good thing. In order to keep their interest alive in their studies, I encourage them to play indoor games, take to doing a couple of paintings or even pastel colour drawings, get them to sing songs, recite poetry and also do a little show-and-tell where they can display their skills by presenting it to the group.”
The children are an energetic bunch. While the enthusiasm and energy is inherent in them owing to their age, to keep at pursuing their dreams with perseverance takes a lot of able support and moulding – which is what Ritu is, for them. “I have noticed that all the children are quite keen to learn – they need not be reminded to come for class, and I always find them present either on time or before time. Some students are very intelligent and just need guidance to shape their futures.”
Give a man a fish, and he has a meal. Teach him to fish, and he’ll never go hungry again. What Ritu does today, will go a long way in the lives of these children. “Education is the basic thing one gets and in most such cases right kind of education is not available for them to access. This has a series of consequences – mostly shortcomings – as they are forced to be confined to unfriendly and hostile environments that don’t help them evolve. Considering the experience I have in the social field and also the fact that I have stayed at different places in and outside India, I feel that a lot can be done for children from economically disadvantaged families.”
This article is a contribution under the ‘Write for Child Rights’ Initiative by the Child Awareness Project. Visit theCAPro.org/write-for-child-rights to know more.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Child Awareness Project.