While the countdown for Christmas has already begun and there are just 10 days to go, Mithun, a teenage waiter-turned-teacher, has donned the mantle of Santa Claus for children of Ram Nagar Colony, an area largely inhabited by families of rag pickers, by bestowing on them the gift of education.
No less than 326 students aged between 5 and 18 eagerly wait for him every evening, as Mithun brings to them new facts about life and academics.
Of these, 25 have started attending regular school and their academic expenses are met by Mithun; while the rest are waiting to get enrolled. These students hail from extremely indigent background and comprise the third generation of rag pickers living at the colony. They want to give up rag picking and lead a respectable life. The colony is a perfect picture of squalor due to the presence of dairies.
Just recently, he distributed books, copies, stationery and clothes among these children, who do not even have the faintest idea about dressing up decently, given the profession they pursue and their poor economic status.
Mithun came across the students when the parents of some of them approached him with the desire of getting their children educated, after hearing of the free school being run by him at Nangli village.
“The parents of some of the children approached me with the request of educating their children. Needless to say, I accepted their request and now I am teaching them besides my regular students at Nangli,” he said.
He added that almost all the rag pickers, who had approached him with the request to teach their children, did not want their wards to pursue the profession that their families had been pursuing for couple of generations.
“A rag picker's life is full of challenges. One of my students, Vikram (11), who makes a living sorting out trash, was seriously injured when he came across a defective mobile phone battery that busted in his hand. We took him to a skin specialist, who advised him to discontinue the work to prevent infection from spreading all over his body,” Mithun maintained.
However, he added that despite the threat to the boy's health, he was under pressure from the head of his community to continue working, failing which his family could lose some of the privileges, including access to water and power supply. “I am trying my best to sort things out for Vikram,” said Mithun.
Pitted against such situation, life is no cakewalk for even this teenage teacher, but he is unwilling to give up. “Empowering such children through education is my mission and I will continue with it come may what,” he said.
Mithun, who opened his free school at Nangli way back in 2008, works as a waiter at marriage places and road side eateries to fund the education of his indigent wards. He earns around `6,000 per month.
Of late, his endeavor has generated a lot of interest both in India and abroad, however, funds are still scanty. “The little that I am getting is for Nangli, but a part of it is being spent at Ram Nagar colony, more is needed,” said Mithun.
Challenges in educating rag pickers' children
According to Mithun, educating children of rag pickers is not an easy job. “While the parents are willing to send their children to school, there are other challenges that we have to deal with,” he said.
While some of the children were forced to work to earn their living, there were others who were addicted to the prospects of earning money at a very young age, he added.
“There is a need to sensitise them about the benefits of education, which is usually not an easy job,” Mithun maintained.
He further said besides these, there were girls, who were forced to stay at home to look after their new born siblings. “Efforts are being made to raise a facility where these girls can be educated for a couple of hours, while their siblings are looked after by baby sitters,” he said.