An interview with Asha Kumar - Delhi, March 24th 2009
When I started Saakshar 1 in 2002, all the slum children [from Nasirpur slum in Mahavir Enclave, Palam] were very quick to learn and I saw that they want to learn, they want to read and write and soon it was running smoothly. Then the charity ‘Asha for Education’ came and saw and were very happy, and started to give me small funds, just enough for the salary of the teachers. ‘Asha for Education Delhi Chapter’ was giving me Rs5450 per month to give salaries for my teachers. All the children were coming from the slums. They heard that the school was here and they were pouring in like anything.
Then I asked the charity people, “See the children are too many now, we have eighty students and I want to feed them, because their parents go for jobs or work, or as housemaids, and my children always feel hungry and they go and beg”. So Asha for Education told me, “OK, give us a project for mid-day meals and rent” so I made the project and they started giving a little more and I was getting Rs80000 [£1000] for a year. And they came and saw and said, “Yes, now you have a bigger school”, and now they are funding me with about 2 lakhs [Rs200000 - £2500] per year. I was happy and now Saakshar 1 is doing well.
"We are not only teaching them only ABCD, we are teaching them values"
Then somebody told me, “Maam, why don’t you open a school in Mangla Puri, because Mangla Puri’s children are not going to school, and they also want your kind of school”. One of my teachers was coming from Manga Puri and she told me, ”Maam, we need a school because children are not going to come this far, as Saakshar 1 is far from Mangla Puri.” So I said ,“Ok then, do a survey and look for a rented house to open a school in Mangla Puri”. Then at last we got a house, for Rs1500 a month, in 2004. And she said every month you have to raise the money, or else you must vacate my house. So I vacated the house and went into a smaller house. But children were pouring into my school, and every parent wanted to send their children to our school. I told them I didn’t have places, but they said, “No, we will send our children to your school”. So once again I was looking for a bigger house and a lady with a house there said “I will take down a wall and make a big room, and I will build one more small room for you, but you will have to pay me Rs2500 a month”. It is a good house, well lit, so I stopped for two or three months and then I said, “Fine, I will give you Rs2500”. She did all everything as she had said. Now after two years Saakshar 2 in Mangla Puri is giving Saakshar a very good reputation. All the children are very nice, they are keen to join the school and they want to learn. My teachers are also very good and are teaching them well.
Most of what we are doing in VVF is cultivating values, not only studies. We teach them how to behave, how to become a good citizen, how to pray to God, respect their parents, love other children and respect their neighbours. We are not only teaching them only ABCD, we are teaching them values.
Again, somebody came and said to me, “Maam, why don’t you come to Matiyala? There are so many children there not going to school. So we did a need-based assessment. Matiyala is thickly populated, a slum resettlement colony. The government has given them each a little bit of space to build a house, and they have built one or two or three story houses. They can rent out some of the house and earn a little money. So their quality of life is a little better, better than Saakshar 1. Every two years or three years I move further, I look and see where Saakshar is required and I open one more school. We are focused on strengthening their values. I don’t want to teach them only literacy, I want to teach them to become a good human being.
"Every two years or three years I move further, I look and see where Saakshar is required”
Parents want to send their children to Saakshar because they say, “Maam, I have sent my children to the government school, but after six months they have not learned anything and they have dropped out”. They don’t want to go to the government school, but do want to come here because of the way we are teaching, our teaching methods. They want to come, they rush to our school. We inspire them to go to school. After finishing their year they feel very empowered, very confident and then they want to go to school. My teachers go and mainstream them in city schools, get them admitted into mainstream schools. We follow their progress and after classes they come until 4pm and have extra tuition. They are good with their studies, and they know how to speak, they are very confident. We are focused on strengthening their values. I don’t want to teach them only literacy, I want to teach them to become a good human being.
This is the Saakshar journey. I started in 2001, the Vigyan Vijay Foundation started on 3rd of September 2001, and slowly slowly we are progressing. I am very happy for my children and they are very happy. When I go to visit them they call out “Big Maam, Big Maam has come!” They call their teachers “Maam”, so when I reach there they say ”Big Maam is here!” So I feel very happy, and thank you for your support, and for what you have sent.
"When I go to visit them they call out 'Big Maam, Big Maam has come!' "
After Asha for Education became unable to meet Saakshar's running costs, Saakshar School Appeal stepped in to provide funding, and since 2010 now we have provided almost all of Saakshar's running costs, currently (2019) about £30,000 per year.