Making a visit to Koshish, near Sarita Vihar was like coming to a different world altogether in the heart of the city. Koshish is a school-cum-vocational center for slum kids, and is located in a slum near Sarita Vihar. The main aim of the school is to provide basic primary education and help the kids secure secondary education in the government schools. As soon as we left Sarita Vihar's D block road and entered into a rather bumpy road towards the slum, we could feel the change from 'our' world to 'their' world. Near an open sewage drain and a little down (or up) on a more bumpy ‘kuccha’ road, is this school. Koshish, quite compact and the most minimal structure a school could have, surrounded by sheds full of buffalos and slum houses made of tattered clothes and sundry materials. My first impression on seeing the school from the distance was the stark contrast it was presenting with the surroundings – properly constructed, painted in pink, with clear writing on front - it was like someone has put it there from somewhere else.
My first interaction with the reality outside of my car (apart from the bumpy roads) was the rather peculiar stench which hit my mind as soon as the car doors were open. It cannot get clearer than this - that stench was the clear difference between 'my' world and 'their' world. As soon as I entered the school, I could see the playground area on the right which had slides, swings, see-saws. I noticed that instead of see-saw, only the lower bar was present. I came to know later on that the see saws cannot be left in the open due to threat of theft. It is made available to kids on Saturdays to play. Upon entering the school, the kids recognized my friend and greeted her with 'Good Morning Mam' in a quite rhythmic tone. I was impressed by the smiles these kids had on their face. Really, they were enjoying it there. I was quite humbled with the way they greeted us and by their enthusiasm when they greeted us in their world.
The school is a four room school. Due to small number of rooms and nearly 180 kids studying, there is no concept of rooms allotted to grades. Younger kids study in the main hall (or room) while somewhat older kids in another room. A room is used as a store for keeping sundry items plus tailoring machines used for teaching older girls sewing. Another room is being used as a computer room. There is also a bathroom and a loo which I do not think are used very often because I saw kids going out for that. We met a teacher who was running the school at that time. She was quite aged and polite – something which I feel is necessary for such a school. The school office was at one corner of the main hall and it consisted of some photos on a wall indicating kids who have got admission in a English medium school or a health checkup camp. There was a chart on another wall indicating the number of students across the years and it has surely grown over the time.
The school runs in two shifts - the morning shift is for younger kids while the afternoon shift is for older kids. There is a lunch break in between where the lunch is provided by the ISKCON people. As I was told, this lunch is also a motivation for some kids to come to the school but at least they come. All the kids were quite happy there and most of them were reading their books or writing Hindi alphabets or numbers on their notebooks. One thing which I noticed was that some kids as young as five (or even four) years knew writing Hindi alphabets and numbers, which the private school kids are not taught now a days at that age. Another thing which I noticed was that most of the kids were wearing uniforms and all of the uniforms were quite neat.
As we sat there and noticed the kids – some of them playing pranks on one another, some just lost in their own worlds, some reading books and preparing for their exams, some reading out the Hindi alphabets and then English loudly for us – I could feel that the kids really wanted to study there. This was quite a change for me – since most of the times, ‘we’ feel that kids from the slum are not interested in studies – they (and their parents) just want to earn money through them. I took a round of the school – greeted by buffaloes from the nearby shed – and found out that the whole structured was just a square building guarded with a minimal boundary. Everything was inside the building which makes sense since I was told there have been instances of some theft and stoning at night. Although the number of kids were very less when we visited the school - as we were told that some kids have gone for an examination – but I could feel a sense of crampness for the kids. And it was hard for me to imagine what happens when they have 100 (or 80) kids in one shift.
When we were leaving, I wanted to talk to a kid who was quite naughty as he was playing pranks on other kids but he turned out to be quite a shy guy when I started talking to him. So, we left the place and after some more of bumpy ride, we were again on a ‘pucca’ road - an indication of us crossing into another world – so near yet so far from those kids. I was certainly not taken back by the poverty there – since in India one is never too far from it – but I was surely taken back by the enthusiasm of the kids. They were happy there – with their books, bags and utensils for the lunch they were eagerly awaiting – reciting their chapters as instructed by the teacher.