This is a charitable cause that is as noble in its intention as it is effective in its implementation. Started by Salma Ansari, wife of Vice President of India, Mohammad Hamid Ansari, the Al Noor Charitable Society stays true to its name — it spreads light through the three schools it has set up in Aligarh. Qila Public School, Al Noor Public School and Chacha Nehru Public School — all work towards educating underprivileged children.
Recounting how it all started, Salma Ansari says, “I was educated at Aligarh Muslim University and so was my husband. He later went back as the vice chancellor of the university. Coming from abroad, it felt like a small place with not much to do, so I decided to take up horse riding. Learning it took me to parts of Aligarh that a car would never have taken me to. It took me to the heart of Aligarh and what I saw there was unbearable. The image of a small child playing near sewage is still etched in my mind. I felt sick and rushed home.”
The incident provoked her to take action. “From that moment on, I knew that unless we bring movement to this stagnation that has set in, we will never get out of it... and the only way to break this inertia was to bring education,” she adds.
Ansari initially met with some resistance from the families of the children. “But after going to each house, I managed to convince them by telling them about the importance of education in their child’s life,” she says. Education was soon combined with vocational training, where the children were taught things that would help them in their practical life.
“The schools are different [from regular schools]. They don’t have a class system and no particular books. We allow the child to run at his or her own pace. You have to connect what you are teaching them to their personal lives,” she upholds. Special attention is given to the education of the girl child and the teachers are specially trained to develop a connection with the children. Even when there was a financial crunch, the teachers stuck around for months without asking for a penny.
The schools have grown from 600 students in 1999 to 2000 students at present. They hope to hit the 3000 mark by the end of the year and aim to start such organisations in every state.
“There are schools that start and don’t last for more than one year. We’re saying give us the building and we’ll bring in the know-how,” mentions Ansari. Stressing on the role of the youth in the movement, she adds, “If you want India to survive as a democracy that people can look up to, the youth is the key. If it understands the call of the time, it can change the world.”