Saakshar means ‘Literate’!
For children in India’s slums, the absence of education is a life sentence of poverty. In the daily struggle to survive, children’s education is often impossible as illiterate parents working long hours are unable to deal with school applications, and slum children who do start school face many challenges and often drop out. In Delhi, the Saakshar project for slum children is helping them to take the vital first step into education, and then supporting them all the way through their school life.
Saakshar began in 2002, as the major project of the Indian NGO, The Vigyan Vijay Foundation (VVF), a small secular charity. Saakshar School Appeal was founded in the UK in 2009 to raise support for Saakshar and to promote its work in Britain, among people in churches, schools and the wider community. With an office in Mahavir Enclave, near Palam in SW Delhi, VVF’s Saakshar project serves the local Nasirpur slum community, and nearby slum resettlement colonies in Mangalpuri and Matiyala.
Saakshar rents four small school rooms, employs ten teachers and several other staff, and prepares about 100 pre-school children for school each year, providing a year of morning lessons which equip each little learner with the confidence, understanding and social skills they need to survive at school. At the end of the year they are signed up their local government schools by Saakshar’s teachers. Saakshar also provides pre-school children with lunch, and regular medical and dental checks, as well as nutritional interventions. Every morning our four school rooms are full of the sound of happy children learning together, learning creatively through stories, songs and dance too.
Once at school, there are many pressures which might force these disadvantaged children to fall behind and drop out. Saakshar provides ongoing support, and every afternoon the four school rooms are open for homework and tutoring sessions led by our committed staff. Another hundred children come to these learning sessions every day after their school classes end, to complete their homework, to get help with their studies, and both for tuition and guidance. Each Saakshar schoolroom is open until 5pm to help tutor older children, and we are planning to open still later, with extra teachers providing specialist help for 11th and 12th standard (6th Form) students. Additional English language and computer skills teaching are provided for older children at the VVF office along with vocational advice and support. Any of our students who is having problems at school or at home (most commonly, pressurised to leave school for work or to prepare for marriage) can talk to our caring teachers, who will help struggling parents to understand the pressures their children are facing.
Mentoring and Vocational Support
As those who have been supported throughout their education by Saakshar reach the end of their school life, Saakshar’s teachers and Coordinator provide mentoring and advice for them and for their parents too. We can pay for a small amount of vocational training for the students we know best. In recent years this has included driving lessons, beautician training, and training in business administration. In 2017-18, two female students, Rupa and Kajal, have taken teacher training courses, sponsored by individual donors in UK through Saakshar School Appeal. They were dedicated students and made excellent progress, completing their training in spring 2018. Both are now working. This is an outstanding achievement for young people from these communities, and we are very happy for them and their families.