For those of you who have never visited India's bustling capital city, New Delhi, it will be an overwhelming experience. An attraction that will catch your eye and one you should undoubtedly experience is the Delhi Metro. On an average over 2.5 million individuals use the public train dubbed as 'Delhi Metro' for commuting purposes. I am writing, not to explain about the glories of the Delhi Metro, but rather about an individual who takes refuge under the shade of this Metro bridge to impart free education to children from nearby slums and deprived families. Rajesh Kumar Sharma has been operating this school that is popularly known as the 'school under the bridge' for the past few years.
While commuting, Sharma used to notice young kids playing around. Their parents were reluctant to send the children to school because they either did not have enough money to pay the fees or wanted their children to work and contribute towards reforming the family's finances. Though it took time and persuasion, Sharma managed to convince the parents to send their children to him for education, thus giving these children a platform denied by others in the world's largest democracy.
Sharma's makeshift school has no tables or chairs for the students to sit on and uses some patches on the wall of the bridge as blackboards for his classroom sessions. Students arrive early morning; sit in rows with their books, notebooks and a bag. Once the school is over, students assist Sharma in cleaning the place, an endeavour by their teacher, Sharma, to instill them with the importance of cleanliness.
A dropout himself, Sharma grew up in Aligarh, a small town in India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh. Financial constraints prevented Sharma from finishing his graduate studies and he was forced to drop out of college in his third year while studying Bachelors of Science.
A shopkeeper by profession, Sharma manages to shuffle his time between his shop and school, where approximately 100 students arrive to pursue education in a country where free and compulsory education is a right for children between 6-14 years.
With approximately 100 students in attendance, the school has teachers that volunteer their time every week in this school. Notebooks, books and stationary items are donated by individuals every now and then, but what is shocking is that despite having existed for more than three years, the school is still deprived of any assistance whatsoever from the government. "We have not received any help from the government so far. Individuals do come by and donate books and notebooks for the kids. But that is all the help received," says Sharma.
Along with his intention to educate those who cannot afford or don't have the means to go to school, this real life hero envisages to prepare children for admission to government schools. In the school's first year, Sharma started off with approximately 140 students and over half of them are now students in government schools.
Since its inception, there has been an influx of students to this school; a clear indication that if constructive steps are taken, those deprived of this fundamental right can gain the most valuable asset in life - education. Sharma's effort speaks volumes for one of the basic issues endured by millions of children in India today and advocates for steps from all sources within our society. We hope that this school currently functioning under a bridge will develop into full-fledged school ground that welcomes and children deprived of education from all backgrounds.