Her hair unkempt and dressed in rags, seven-year-old Rani holds a stack of newspapers under her arm at a busy traffic intersection in the city waiting for a car to halt. Just then a van wheels by making her squeal in delight. A host of other kids join her and they run towards it chanting 'Didi'(elder sister).
As three teachers step out of it, the kids gather around it in excitement. The Tamasha Roadshow Van, a mobile school initiative, is a sliver of hope for kids like Rani from the drudgery of their daily grind at the various traffic signals of the city where they sell newspapers, flowers and other odds and ends.
An initiative of Katha, a non- governmental organisation (NGO), the Tamasha Roadshow van steers away from the monotonous educational methods and instead teaches street children through fun filled methods - the reason why these kids look forward to learning.
As many as 7,000 kids like Rani have been benefited from this schools-on-wheels programme that was started in 2002, Parvinder Kaur, director of the programme, said.
"Initially there were many reservations, especially on behalf of the parents of the children. Since these kids are working and bring home the much-needed money, they were scared that school and education will strip them off one of the breadwinners of the family," she said.
"Hence we had to think of something that will help the children without putting their families into jeopardy."
Since the NGO team realised that the kids are not interested in mainstream education, they have decided to provide education in a different way.
"We came up with the idea of organising a van service with three teachers that would go to all the traffic lights and teach the children who work there. We have decided to devise modules like telling them stories that have messages on the importance of health and hygiene, on the environment and then slowly go on to teach them language, numbers and science," Parvinder Kaur added.
Filled with colourful storybooks and having computers fitted in them, these vans are a storehouse of excitement for the kids. Besides telling stories, colourful pictures, puppets, cards and marbles are also used to teach them in a fun-filled manner. The sessions last for two to three hours a day.
That's not all. Various workshops on candle making, card making and painting are also conducted so that the children can learn new skills and can use them to earn a better living. "The parents are also convinced this will help their kids enhance skills to earn more that hence encourages them to come to us every day," she said.
With just three vans and nine teachers, the NGO has been successful in enrolling nearly 3,000 children in the mainstream schools of Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD).
"After the fun-filled way of teaching we slowly start focusing the child towards the mainstream education. Every year, 800-900 children get enrolled in the MCD schools and we help them with extra tutorials, fees as well as monitor their growth.
"What excites me most is that four of our children appeared for the class 10 exams through the National Open School this year. That is an achievement," Parvinder Kaur said with pride.
"That's not all. Most of the street kids, who are vulnerable to drug abuse, have decided to quit their bad habits after attending the school sessions. Most of them, especially girls, have decided not to beg on the roads but work for a living," said Amrita Talwar, a member of Katha.
Operational only in south Delhi, the programme aims to reach out to the kids in the rest of the city soon. "After all if kids can't come to school, the school should go to them," quipped Parvinder Kaur.
(Azera Rahman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)