The story of Aamir who became the first generation school-goer from his family.
Born in Jaffrabad, Delhi, Mohammad Aamir grew up with a despairing privilege – He was the only member of his family to go to school and acquire an education. This, however, didn’t come to him easily. The early death of his father put all the household responsibilities on the shoulders of his two elder brothers. Aamir was keen to share the financial burden of his family and support his own studies; therefore at a very tender age, he began to work in a shop; falling prey to child labour- like many other young people in the country.
But, his far-sighted insight towards the benefit for education stayed prevalent. He showcased brilliance and with the support of Rupees 10,000 from the local MLA, helped moved to a private school, from a government school, post his 10th class. Switching schools broadened his horizons in seeking a better education. His teachers were well-aware about his challenging financial conditions and guided him to choose a profession that could soon be rewarding, after familiarizing him with a diverse range of available options. Being a witness and victim of multiple social problems, Aamir eventually developed an inclination towards tangible social action – that could support young people like himself to move ahead from shackles of lack of opportunities.
Aamir went on a week-long group exposure organised by Pravah; to Madhya Pradesh based organisation Agrini. He had an astonishing experience in a new horizon of pedagogical techniques, techniques that can be relevant in emancipating the level of education in his neighbourhood in Delhi. “This group exposure program was inclusive of several activities like discussing the issues of reservation that broke many of my stereotypes about the schedule tribe people. I became aware of various government aids provided to them.”, he added.
The success of the 7-day exposure program inspired Aamir joined the intensive and deeper Pravah SMILE Fellowship program in August 2018. Under this fellowship program, Aamir made a well-thought plan that could create a long-term vital impact in the community by extending quality education to the children in his community. “I always thought that if I have to bring any kind of positive change in society, first I’ll need to change myself and my surroundings. I see that there is a lack of education and also little understanding of its importance in the community, the area where I belong to. So I would at first love to work for the betterment of these people and direct them towards acquiring quality education.” shared Aamir enthusiastically. There are many students who drop out of schools due to multiple reasons. Aamir began deliberating the core reason behind this trend, and conducted a small survey with students, the parents, discussing the prevalent issues and counselling them on the importance of quality education.
Through these conversations, Aamir began to know and understand the reasons that lead students to drop out of school, in the aim of starting a rehabilitation process to mainstream them back to school. “I had a simple plan and when I stepped out to execute it, I came across numerous challenges. The primary school students of Anganwadis weren’t even treated as students – not by authorities or their parents. They just came to have a free meal. The situation was so dastardly that students of 12th standard could hardly write a simple leave application” mentioned Aamir.
His mission was set – curb the drop-out rates, and attract kids towards rounded doors of a classroom. Initially, he started working with 8 kids. He put up a projector, invited his friends, and started showcasing short animated films and games. This established a newfound interest in the children and a good connection. The number of children has increased to 32 today and are educated per the Directorate of Education syllabus in his school.
Simultaneously, he also filed an RTI to know the reasons for dropouts in his area. It exposed that 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th standard are the ones that see a higher dropout, primarily because of a tepid initiative from the family and a repressed financial situation. Even though it is difficult to get the exact data of the dropouts, Aamir is keen to know the dropout reasons with clear data of the students who leave education after the 12th class. Working in this direction, he took the initiative of setting up a library where the students could sit and study peacefully in a conservative area which otherwise is bustling with small-scale factories and shops. “I was aware that no one would pay heed to my idea of coming up with a library in our area, therefore I approached a respectable man who is a doctor in our community to help me figure out a way through this. I met him along with two or three students and told him that we wish to study. He was a bit reluctant initially and told us that he’ll speak to the MLA and the counsellor of the area and see their response and then proceed accordingly. A meeting was called and I put up the proposal of the library which was readily approved. Today in our madrasa itself, we have a small library room.” Aamir elaborates.
Speaking of the challenges that he faced during the course of his work, Aamir says, “I had to manage my studies, classes, college field work alongside all the other activities which I conducted under the fellowship program. It was tough, but we persevered. We have children from class 1 to class 8 and we charge only Rupees 100 per month from the children and invest all the money in the school expenses. For those who cannot afford to pay the fees, we teach them for free and we do not charge anything from half of them. We give away prizes to students who do well so as to encourage them further and everything is managed from the fees we receive. So, finances are a problem. My friends who find my project interesting volunteer to help me out in several ways. It’s tough but it’s my responsibility. I see my own childhood in these children and I have to manage”.
“I shall complete my SMILE Fellowship in January 2019. The best part of the fellowship is that I have learned to see eye to eye, empathetically, with every child that I come across. My presentation skills have largely increased and my confidence is boosted as I am on par with all my fellow classmates in terms of education. I further plan to take up Masters in Social Work as I am delightful to be in this field. This is my passion.” Aamir says while sharing his unforgettable experience about the SMILE Internship program.
The Pravah SMILE Fellowship is a 6 months programme where aspiring youth leaders are supported to develop, design and implement impactful action projects in their community on pressing social issues- through design and facilitation tools, mentoring seed funding; across Delhi. To apply to the fellowship please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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