On a typical summer evening, 20 students sit on a chatai (woven mat) alternating between listening in rapt attention to the teacher/moderator to engaging in high-octane discussion. This could be a scene from any ‘international’ school simulating a day in Parliament, but for the fact that this is in a ‘school’ that runs behind a temple, under a tree with the blackboard propped up on a tree trunk. The classroom of Hamari Kaksha in the Mansa Devi complex, Panchkula, may have a pastoral feel but it provides fodder for the human mind.
The discussion in the class under the tree is not the kind you expect from 13-year-olds at a remedial school. But this group of ‘back-benchers’ are not only interested in current affairs, they also have firm views and are not shy of airing them.
The moderator, Anuradha Sharma, 50, who is a chemistry professor at the Post Graduate Government College, Sector 11, had a dream, which she has turned into reality — with a herculean effort. “I started Hamari Kaksha in 2003 as an experiment. I had just a chatai and 15 children who were eager to study,” says Sharma.
From that humble beginning, the school has come a long way — if not in terms of infrastructure, certainly in the number of lives it has touched.
Altogether 800 students study at Hamari Kaksha now, comprising poor performers at regular schools and school dropouts, mainly children from poor families. “The classes are held in evenings so these children can attend,” says Veenu Gupta, a Hamari Kaksha teacher and Sharma’s friend.
One of the students, Govind, used to perform poorly in school, but after attending classes here, he has started taking interest in studies. “I never liked school until Anu madam (Sharma) brought me here. She convinced me that my future could change if I studied hard,” says the 13-year-old student of Class 6.
Then there is 7-year-old Salman, who is hearing and speech impaired. A student at a special school, he came to Hamari Kaksha in 2009. And it was left to Sharma to discover Salman’s wonderful capacity to draw and his lightning skills at a computer.
It is not just the lives of students that has changed. The 30 teachers — college lecturers and student volunteers and paid teachers — find their work satisfying too.
The school also teaches through theatre. The children write and stage plays. “Often, these plays depict their lives and anger. Channeling it through this medium unleashes their creativity,” says Chakresh Kumar, specialist in children’s theatre. Kumar recently helped the students script a version of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
“There was a time when Sharma stood outside schools and spoke to the children who used to loiter around,” reminisces Sarita Tiwari, another of Sharma’s friends, who teaches at Hamari Kaksha. “She managed to persuade the children to come and study here.”
Sharma’s efforts have been recognised widely. In 2010, the school bagged the Godfrey Philips Bravery award in the field of social service and in 2012, it got a commendation from the Punjab and Haryana governor.
Sharma, however, feels she still has miles to go. The school runs from three locations — Government School, Sector 7 and Sai temple of Sector 29 in Chandigarh, and Mansa Devi temple in Panchkula. Sharma hopes to transform these into something big. “It started as a personal initiative. Then my friends and family pooled in resources and money. But now that it has expanded, we need some help,” she says. Although Hamari Kaksha is a registered NGO, it has received no monetary help from the government.
It is time the students of Hamari Kaksha moved to a real classroom, and for that a little help would go a long way.