This Saturday morning was brighter than usual for Om and Anjali, the children of a daily wager and housemaid. They woke up early and headed to their first-ever parent-teacher meeting at Sharda Vidya Peeth - a school being run for children whose parents cannot afford to educate them.
Things have changed for the sister-brother duo and 45 others from a slum colony near Durga Mata Mandir, Jagraon Bridge. The very hands that now hold a book used to beg for alms on the dusty, congested roads of the city.
"They used to sit in front of temples and beg," says Ravinder Sharma, the chairman of Noble Foundation, the trust that has been financing Sharda Vidya Peeth and 10 other such schools in the city for five years.
Apart from a formal education, the children are also learning the importance of hard work. "During the day, they study and, as the sun sets, they make garlands and sell them," Sharma adds.
While Sharma is modest about the contribution of his trust to society, Anjali and Om's mother says she had never even dreamt that her children would study.
The most encouraging thing about the school is that most children love to study. "You can check the attendance register. Hardly any kid misses a day or two," says Sharma, as children behind him chorus for keeping the school open on Sundays. "See! They even ask me to extend timings from 1 pm to 3pm."
The other schools run by the foundation are in Bihari Colony, BRS Nagar, Cheema Chowk, Jodhewal Basti, Mundiyan, Tajpur Road, Moti Nagar, Jamalpur and Basant Avenue. "Nearly1,800 such children are getting education from Class 1 to 5 in our schools, Sharma says, adding: "We have also started a school each in Abohar, Ghajja (Patiala), Jalalabad and Guru Harsahib."
Though it is contributing to a better future, Noble Foundation does not accept donations.
"Instead we ask the affluent people in the city to adopt a child each for Rs. 1,800 per month," he says, adding: "From their fees to books, everything for these students is free."
The trust had sought the government help only once. "We once wrote letters to the deputy commissioner and police commissioner to request them to give us space for more such schools. They did not reply, so we have vowed not to take any government help," Sharma says. He goes on to question the Right to Education Act: "Do government officials really respect and follow it?"
But angst soon gives way to joy. Om and Anjali are ecstatic. They passed the exams. "And so have all the students except one who had joined late. He, too, is a bright child," says Veena Sachdeva, the teacher who manages the school. A thorough Samaritan, Veena, though a Class 12 pass, has been a teacher for 10 years.
"We have 50 teachers, who work voluntarily for only Rs. 1,000 to Rs. 2,500," says Sharma.