Story of a Neighborhood Revolution!


In sector 16 J. J colony slum area Noida, a revolution has been silently brewing from past seven years. It is volunteers of Association of India’s Development, Noida chapter working tirelessly, mostly unnoticed, with a supernatural zeal, who have ignited the community dwellers to educate every child. From the scenario back in 2005 where volunteers had to request people to send their children to their informal education setup, to the situation where classrooms are overflowing with children , AID-Noida has indeed come a long way!
Finally volunteers have taken firm final step towards a bright future- Opening Prayas Vidyalaya.

Proximal association of AID-Noida volunteers with Nai Disha (free school which provides quality education) and massive support from the community itself, has fueled the establishment of ,one of its kind, formal education setup Prayas Vidyalaya". This model incubates the philosophy of self sustainable school, with low cost, which provides quality education to one and all. A minimal fees for students has been introduced for the first time to bear administrative costs and ensure more accountability and greater involvement by the community. So here is the coverage of the entire journey...

Formed in 2005, AID-Noida popularly known as “Prayas” amongst community inhabitants, is a volunteer based social development organization committed towards the cause of providing accessibility and availability of quality education to marginalized children with special focus on urban slum population. The project is currently focused on a slum community in Sector-16, J.J colony, Noida. This is a heavily populated community with a population of around 5000-10000 people. Illiteracy, drop-outs and health related issues are rampant in this community. Most of the inhabitants of the community are migrant workers from states like Bihar, and remote villages of Uttar Pradesh.

 When you visit the community, the dingy entrance makes one wonder about the magnitude of revolution, that can be brought about. But when I saw around ten fifteen children rushing to greet and passerby people saying a Salaam to the volunteers, I begin realizing what impact volunteers have made on the lives of people here. I conducted some interviews before the inaguration.When I entered two room setup,what struck instantly, was colorful walls, and paintings. There were three computers placed on one corner. A writing board in one room, and two in other room. Two bulletin boards displaying latest news, creations by children, and some other information. And then children began pouring in. Impeccably clean and enormously confident, they shook hands and sat down quietly. Senior children were monitoring younger ones. We got to know that its the parents teachers meeting day at AID-Noida. Classroom was full of parents. There were mothers who cooked at some kothis , stitched in some factory, or were plain housewives. Fathers were mostly rickshaw pullers or temporary labors, tailors-masters , carpenters etc. They panicked when told about some mischief of their ward, felt proud when an accomplishment was announced, and promised to be vigilant about their ward’s performance.
Several volunteers like Darshan, Nakul, Anand, Raj, Charu, Linkan, Anant and Soumitro were present. After all parents have left, Darshan, one of the veteran volunteer began talking “I remember those difficult days when these children abused each other, picked rags, and were scared to come close. Even we struggled with lack of clarity of purpose. Our intent was good, but there was no vision. Finally studying the model of AID-Chennai closely, and interacting with other fellow AIDers, we came to a decision of developing a self sustainable model of education. A system which imparted quality education. We appreciate the amount of efforts government is putting to structure the education system in our country. It was a proud moment when Right to Education was passed in the country. But on grass root level we feel that mid day meal might not be an attraction enough for a child to attend school regularly and understand the value of education. The motivation has to come from within. Now that the community understands the value of quality education, we have decided to open our  unique Prayas Vidyalaya“ Charu, one of the youngest volunteers chirped in “ We have been mentoring children and parents for many years now. We take care of their education, ensure that they attend regular school, irrespective of the fact that it is any government school, or any local school. We have formed close relation with other formal education setups in the city like Nayi Disha, and Om Foundation. We also got a chance to collaborate with social science undergrads of National University Singapore. They visit us every year for a two week project. So the only next step could be "Prayas Vidyalaya

Meanwhile, children were also brimming to spill their stories. At the opportunity to speak, Jaanbaaz tells “Hi, My name is Jaanbaaz, I am 13 years old.” His command over English was startling. “didi and bhaiyya here have infused the enthusiasm to learn, and have taught us the importance of education. When I told about my zeal to play cricket Nakul bhaiyya ensured that I get a coached by one of the finest cricket coaches in Noida. Today, I own a personal cricket kit, and attend the cricket coaching every weekend, in Noida stadium. ” Sona excited at the opportunity to speak, stifled a giggle and said “We are eleven siblings. My eldest sister got married without proper education. When didi and bhaiyya came to our community, nobody in my family had the slightest idea that I , being a girl, would be the most literate member of the family. My younger brother Aaftaab is also enrolled in the setup. “ Zainab another student, who was sitting with her two younger siblings shyly spoke “Sajjad, myself, shaabaaz, and roshnee are enrolled here. I attend Nai – Disha school. Three years back teachers at Nai – Disha used to say that students from AID-Noida are the most untidy students, and are not good in studies. I also flunked in some subjects, initially. But over the years, I have studied hard and with proper guidance from didi and bhaiyya, I am now amongst the top performers of my class. And AID-Noida students are no longer tagged as most untidy students in Nai-Disha, because didi and bhaiyya have scolded us many times, to stay clean, cut nails, and wear washed clothes.” Children like Soobi, Gulaabi, also had such stories to share.

One of the old volunteers Anand gupta reminiscenced “ At the time when our set up was in an embryonic stage, we had a dearth of female students and female volunteers. Parents in the community were edgy about sending their daughters to our setup, and female volunteers were hesitant in entering the community without an escort. Of course we don’t face similar hurdles today. We have built a trust amongst community dwellers. The only reason is we have persevered and shown them changes. “ On demand by women in the community, AID –Noida started female literacy classes last year. Linkan, the current project co-ordinator told us “Women in the community realized that being illiterate was a huge disadvantage. They wanted to rise above the level of ubiquitous thumb. Many felt that their literate children had stopped respecting them. They requested me to accommodate them in our setup and teach them basic reading , writing and math. I was more than happy to take this responsibility. When we began women literacy classes, children were extremely excited to see their mothers learning. I feel that we have come a full circle. Educated women, and educated families, and now with our own Prayas Vidyalaya in place we will have an educated community “

Talking of current times, newly opened Prayas Vidyalaya, is a self sustainable school within the community, which would be supported by the community members. Prayas Vidyalaya administrative committee consists of three AID-Noida volunteers, two volunteers from Nai Disha :- Commodore Gurnam Singh, and Commander Keval Krishnan , one teaching staff, three community members. Presently the school has a staff of 3 teachers, with Mrs Jyoti Khare, as the principal.One of the staff members Miss Kavita is a graduate and a resident from the community. The principal Mrs Jyoti Khare has been working with AID-Noida 1.5 years now. Third staff member Mr Ashok has a rich experience of working with another organization with similar agenda as AID-Noida’s.
Volunteers feel that community at large has been extremely supportive of their methods and interventions, and are sure of the support of the community for this step. Anant, a veteran volunteer comments “ Of course we know there are several neighborhood government schools. But our intent is focus on quality education, and a system where everybody is accountable for its execution. Unless parents are not willing, their children cannot be educated. And in our new setup, we will ensure a minimum administrative cost, and maximum quality. Initial plan is to get accreditation from NIOS, and encourage a huge participation from within the community”. Anand Gupta supports this “ It could be that the school might not survive after a few years, but the wave of awareness in community, will make parents careful about their wards future. If parents are motivated, they can ensure that their child gets quality education from any neighborhood government school. We have nothing to loose here. ”

Now I did some quick research on the current scenario of education in the city. Following are results:-

Fees in primary classes of top tier schools :- Ranges from 20,000 INR— 90,000 INR annually.
Fees in primary classes of tier two schools :- Ranges from 10,000 INR — 18,000 INR annually.
Fees in primary classes of govt schools :- 0 INR + Free Mid Day meal.
Fees for children in Prayas Vidyalaya :- Ranges from 600 INR — 2400 INR annually.
Approx income of a family in community :- Ranges from 72,000 INR—1,50,000 INR annually
Avg no of family members in a family :- Min 6 , Max 11 for AID-Noida community

As we are already aware that community dwellers in sec 16 area, belong to extremely humble backgrounds. Some are rickshaw pullers, some work at construction sites, some at the garages etc. And if we are not like our extremely optimistic central government , which assumes an individual can survive on 22 INR a day, we know that how difficult it is for any family in the community to provide education to its children. One might argue the indispensability of government schools in such humble conditions. AID-Noida has conducted surveys in the local government schools to gauge the growth of a student. Numerous issues have been identified with the quality of education imparted in government schools. Volunteers have tried to collaborate with the local government school to work on the quality, several times in past, with little or no encouragement by the school authorities.It has been found that irregularity of teachers, and lack of interest shown by parents in several cases has led to de-motivation of a student. All this boils down to non- substantial growth of a child, many a times resulting into a drop-out.

Volunteers have worked in a frenzy, for six months to realize the dream of Prayas Vidyalaya. Atul Sharma took care of logistics of the school, Vikas Singhal worked on presentation and promotion of this conceptual school, Charu took care of all functions on the inauguration day, Soumitro ensured all enrollments were complete, Nakul managed the final event, Anant worked on corporate sponsorship, Linkan and Anand collaborated and worked on personal relations with Nai Disha, and Darshan visited Noida from Chandigarh every weekend to oversee the entire process. Newbies like Astha, Avirishu and many others took care of the non-formal classes and annual admission process of students in Nai Disha.

When you encounter youth with purpose, you know a storm is in the making. All volunteers in AID-Noida are working professionals belonging to age group 20-35 years. Youngsters who should be going on shopping sprees, hanging out with friends or spending weekends with spouses, come and spend their Saturday and Sunday afternoons in a shabby community. And they have made a substantial change. Mufti sahib a member of the community says “ These youngsters are like our own children. They care more for our children than us. We wish them all possible happiness in one lifetime. I am not sure about my kids, but these youngsters are definitely the promising future of the country” .

I wish volunteers at AID-Noida, the best. Challenges are many, and the fear of failure looms large.They sure will encounter several hurdles, but I know they will steer clear , as they have done several times in past!

Anvita Shukla