Want to know what a paradox looks like? Well drive to the popular Select City Mall in South Delhi’s Saket, but do not go in. Instead, cross the road and walk down a lane. You will find yourself in the midst of a slum community called Jagdamba Camp. Yes, this is what a paradox looks like. While on one end of the road we have international brands selling small sling bags for more than Rs. 5,000, the other side has barefoot children playing in filthy narrow lanes. It is difficult to fathom that this slum community is as much a part of Delhi as the giant mall with all its fancy facilities across the road.
Organisations like Swechha have been working with this slum community for the past five years. They run the Pagdandi programme that includes reading classes in this slum cluster. The Swechha website describes it as a community-based non-formal alternative learning programme for children and adolescents of Jagdamba Camp. The programme focuses on education, empowerment and employability and is largely led by volunteers and experts. In other words, Pagdandi’s vision is to supplement the formal education of these children, socially empower them and increase their employability by developing their knowledge, skills, abilities and attitude. As a part of this programme, Swechha organises a Reading Day on the third Saturday of every month. On this day volunteers distribute books among children and adolescents and read out stories (with a specific theme) to young children.
Last month, I along with my fellow campus journalists got an opportunity to volunteer for reading day. We reached the main office of the NGO in Malviya Nagar in the morning at around 9.30 am. The office was fascinating to say the least. Old vegetable baskets substituted as shelves and an array of coke cans made up a chandelier. Cycle rims were used as partitions between different cubicles.We were apprised about the day’s itinerary at the briefing following which we set out for Jagdamba Camp with Suman, the community coordinator. Our task was to read stories and poems based on the theme of the month, mangoes.
Yusra Hasan, Mater Dei School
Connecting with the curious
Enthusiasm is contagious, especially when it comes from little children. Sanjana, an adorable little girl at the Jagdamba Camp, a slum in south Delhi, was brimming with enthusiasm as she proudly led me and Apoorv into the many lanes of her colony where we had to distribute books. Clearly the monthly reading day occupied a special place in her calendar. While distributing books, we met several young children who were very eager to hear stories. By the time we reached the last house of the lane assigned to us, we had a small crowd of curious children following us. They also wanted to show us their reading skills.
Our story telling session started with the classic Akbar-Birbal tale about a disputed mango tree. The story ended with Birbal finding a clever solution. The children hung on to every word as I dramaticaly narrated the story and nodded gravely at the end when I told them that the moral of the story was that one should never lie.
After we finished the story, I asked an extremely shy boy, Idris, who could read English, to read out a short story called Bubbles the Monkey and then translate it for his friends. He was initially reluctant but when he started reading I thought to myself “How well this boy reads!”
The first step to bring about change is to transform the way people think. And the best way to do that is to begin with children because children are very impressionable and essentially pure at heart. The sheer enthusiasm that these children possess has rekindled a hope in me - a hope that if right efforts are put in, things can and do get better.
As the reading day came to an end and we were about to leave, a little girl who did not utter a word through out the session, silently crept behind me and held my hand. This gesture touched my heart and made me very happy.
Anwesha Padhy, Amity International School
A moment of reflection
Every once in a while you come across something that leaves a deep imprint on your mind, something that makes you pause and assess your life. For me this happened when I was part of the reading day organised by an NGO called Swechha.
We were part of the team who had to read stories to children to get them interested in reading.Despite living in abject poverty, these young children nurture big dreams.
I was part of the team that manned kitaab ghar, a tiny room in the midst of the bustling Jagdamba colony where children come to enjoy books. Many children came to hear our stories about mangoes. They then proceeded to read the stories aloud to us. I was surprised to see them speak fluently in English.
A young boy even confided in me that he aspired to become an engineer. I do not have the slightest doubt that he will realise his ambition one day.
The level of dedication and passion that he and his friends demonstrated left me convinced that they will all grow up to become the pride of their humble colony.
This experience gave me a lot of joy, a sense of fulfilment in giving back to the community; in knowing that you are doing your bit in helping innocent starry eyed children realise their dreams.
I am of the opinion that more youth should participate in such initiatives as they can bring about change and bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Rishabh Suri, Ramjas School
One must never judge a book by its cover
I feel that after being a part of the reading day organised by Swechha, I have become a different person. I have to admit that I was one of those people, who think that almost all the people who live in rural areas are illiterate and only people living in cities and educated in public schools are intelligent and smart.
My perspective changed after I met 12-year-old Ruby who lives in Jagdamba Colony. The first surprise came when she greeted me and fellow CJ Neeraj in fluent English. I was assigned the responsibility (by my team) of penning down details of children who were borrowing books from us.
To my amazement I had to do nothing as Ruby efficiently took on this responsibility. Almost all the children in the colony could comprehend basic English.
But the best part of the day was when an elderly man, probably in his 70s asked us for a book to read. I now know that everything is not what it seems to be. The people whom we dismiss as backward are actually much more evolved in their thought-process than many others that we consider to be educated.
Throughout the day parents were stopping and asking us to give their children books to read. The children who refused books were admonished by their parents. We realised that there is a growing awareness for literacy and the desire to inculcate reading as a habit among the economically marginalised sections of the society. People living in this colony realise the importance of reading over watching television. My day spent at Jagdamba Colony made me realise that one should never judge a book by its cover.
Parnika Singhal, St Thomas’ School
Children of a lesser god
We all trudge along the road called life with our multiple challenges and apprehensions. Sometimes we lack courage and hope, cursing God for our state of being. However, there exists a world that continues to rise above all odds. I experienced this world by being part of Swechha’s reading day called Pagdandi.
A group of 15 children greeted me and Anwesha in the kitaab ghar. We were their teachers for the day. The children were brimming with hope, aspiration and ideas. Most important, they were willing to learn.
As we commenced the reading session we were surprised to see that most of the students were fairly comfortable with English. Although these children do not get the best of education in their schools, they eagerly await the monthly reading days and workshops conducted by Swechha. As I continued to interact with them I learnt of the trials and tribulations which they encounter on a daily basis and realised how privileged I was.
There were a few special children also. One among them was Sunny who aspires to be an engineer and is also an amazing artist. Then there was Kapil who has the most impressive handwriting that I have ever seen. However, the sweetest among them was Anjali, a little girl.
Apoorv Gupta, Cambridge School
We need agents of change"
Seeing is better than reading. This is what I said to my fellow CJs when we were at Jagdamba Colony. The time we spent with children in the slum cluster taught us a few things that we might not have liked reading about.
If one extends his/her hand to help another human being he/ she will be part of a revolution of improving the world around us. We need to help a fellow human being to know more and think better. This is the cornerstone of Swechha’s philosophy and work.
NGOs like Swechha are assisting marginalised communities to think in terms of self development. And by working with children, these NGOs are doing a laudable job.
After all it is important to lead children in the right direction and encourage them to pursue their dreams and aspirations. The interest that these children demonstrated on the reading day made me realise that bringing a positive change is actually not tough. Change needs to be initiated.
Meeting volunteers of Swechha who tirelessly work for the betterment of society was also an inspiring experience.
In my view everybody should contribute for the upliftment of the underprivileged in whatever capacity they can and work towards bringing about a change.
Neeraj V Murali, Rishabh Public School
All about aspiration management
By being a part of the reading day organised by Swechha for the benefit of underprivileged children, I realised that everyone has aspirations and all that is needed to pursue them is encouragement. As I walked around the community with my fellow campus journalist Rishabh, looking for children willing to borrow books, I marvelled at many things.
An enthusiastic little girl, Ruby expertly guided us through the many confusing bylanes and alleys. As we moved on from one street to the other, many children gathered around us, requesting for books.
What surprised me was the fact that the demand for English books was fairly high. We were also pleasantly surprised to see their zeal for learning. As part of the activity, we had to narrate stories to children on the theme mango. Their excitement was obvious as they huddled around us with glowing faces. The group of children was joined by a few elderly ladies who were also interested in listening to our stories. In other words the enthusiasm was contagious. This is a memory which I would hold on forever. And the best part was that our effort brought happiness into to these kids. My greatest reward was to see the smiles on their faces. On a personal note, I would love to go back again to do whatever I possibly can.