Twenty-two-year-old Roshni is busy learning to read and write as she never went to school. She performs a careful balancing act with her 10-month-old baby in one hand and her notebook in the other. She is among the 101 girls and women who are taught by Anupama Saxena, a resident of Sector 5 in Vaishali.
While Roshni is learning the basics of reading and writing, majority of the girls are seeking Saxena’s guidance to pass their secondary, senior secondary and graduation courses. Saxena and her husband, Akhilesh Maindwal, not only teach the girls and women but also get them enrolled in open schools and correspondence courses.
“Students of classes 10 and 12 are enrolled with the National Institute of Open Schooling (NIOS) and those pursuing graduation are enrolled with the School of Open Learning (SOL). We teach humanities, as the subjects are easier for them to understand. Majority of these girls are from nearby slums and villages who studied up to class 8 in the nearby government school but had to drop out since there are no government schools in the vicinity for students of class 9 and above,” Saxena said.
Saxena started the initiative in 2011, two years after her 25-year-old son died in a car accident in Lucknow.
“We lost our only son, Aakash, in 2009. We were planning to get him married. He died just 50 days after getting placed with a company in Lucknow. His car collided head-on with a bus moving at a high speed. It felt like there was no reason for us to live anymore. My wife lost interest in life and was completely shattered. However, to pull ourselves together and to keep our son alive among us, we started a foundation in his name in 2011 and made it our life’s aim to help the needy,” Maindwal, a retired official from Steel Authority of India Limited, said.
The couple stays in Sector 4 of Vaishali but have rented a house in Sector 5 to conduct the classes.
“Since we have a space crunch, we conduct one-hour classes for multiple batches, of 20 girls each, from 2.30pm to 7.30pm every day. We pay their admission and exam fees, which is around Rs 3,000 per person. We spend around Rs 2.5 lakh annually but we are happy to spend it on the foundation as we had saved the money for our son,” Maindwal said.
He said that they started the initiative by inviting girls of class 8 studying in the Sector 5 government school.
“We just went to the government school and spoke to students of class 8. We asked them about their plans after finishing class 8. While some were clueless, others said that their families would either get them married or make them work as domestic helps. We spoke to their families and got their permission to educate them further. Initially, we used to teach the girls at our house but we rented a flat as the number grew,” Saxena said.
Students studying at the foundation said that Saxena has given them a second lease of life.
“I and my older brother used to study in the same school in our teens. After class 8, he continued his studies at the government school in Ghazipur but I was not allowed since it was far from home. My mother started taking me along when she went to do household chores. However, I wanted to study further and that is when I got in touch with Saxena madam,” Kavita, who is now a BA student, said.