While children across the country were celebrating Children’s Day on 14th November 2014 in their schools, children of drug addicts, criminals and ragpickers in Tikiapara, Howrah (WB) had their own plans. An old dilapidated 150 year old building in the area, with a 2 acre dumping ground and pond in its backyard, was home to criminal and underground activities of their elders. Formerly known as I R Belilious Institution that groomed many stalwarts including a Chief Justice, it was now functioning as a namesake government school in the morning, had 16 teachers, and only 10 students. The teachers had a different task in hand, although, assigned by their political connections. They had to facilitate the encroachment of the building and its ground by some apartment builders. Everyday after school, the building used to become a haven for drug peddling, smuggling, and at times even murders.
But today was the day of children. From morning, they started gathering in small numbers and worked out a plan. Shortly after the Principal and Teachers arrived, hundreds of children barged into the building from all sides, forced open all rooms, and settled in, declaring it THEIR SCHOOL. The school Principal, the Police and the hardened criminals, all were in a state of shock, as the children had used their basic Right to Education. The local MLA instrumental in spearheading the land encroachment, had no option but to applaud the action of the children, and gift the school to them on Children’s day.
But behind all this, was the 45 year long struggle of a wage laborer child, who himself could study only till grade 7. At age 14, forced to take up a part time job, Mamoon Akhtar continued education till grade 12. As he saw his friends and other children slowly leave school, and get involved in drug and illicit liquor peddling, he vowed to put a stop to it. Establishing Samaritan Help Mission in 2001, he started a non-formal school in his own house. His only mission was to teach all the underprivileged children in an English medium, and help them come out of the rotten hell, their elders had created for them. Children of rickshaw pullers, house maids, daily wage laborers and jailed convicts started trickling in, as this school required no age or identity proofs, and costed just Rs 5/- a month. Help also started pouring in from unknown quarters, and the school grew bigger. One day a friend in the neighbourhood, overheard the encroachment plan among the goons, and requested Mamoon to do something. Mamoon contacted the School Principal, the Police and other Officials, but saw their helplessness. That is when he rallied the children together, and prepared them for the Enid Blyton kind adventure.
As the children sat comfortably in the classrooms, the local MLA and the Police arrived. But neither of them could take any action against the children, as they had used their constitutional Right to Education. Trying to save his vote bank, the MLA unwillingly gifted the School building and the ground as a Children Day gift to the children. The Howrah City Police too got into action, and set up a Police station in the campus. Mamoon shared the achievement on social networks, that spread like wildfire, and congratulatory messages and help started pouring in from everywhere.
Within a few months, the old building was renovated and on December 1, 2014, the campus was inaugurated as Rebecca Belilious English Institution, by the State Minister and Commissioner Howrah City Police. Out-of-school children of the neighbourhood were admitted, and given uniforms, books and stationary. Mamoon’s Samaritan Mission School recruited and trained the Teachers. Howrah City Police managed the administrative affairs and collaborations. Today the school houses 500 plus children, has a turfed football ground, Cricket practice pitch, Basketball court, Volleyball court, all gifted by Chevrolet under their Slum Soccer program, has a Doctor and a health van gifted by Cognizant, and is financially supported by Edelweiss and Caring Friends. Two football prodigies from the school went to escort the Manchester United Team in a match. “It was a life time experience sitting next to David Beckham watching the match”, said the Volunteer Teacher, who accompanied the kids.
The transformation could not have happened, had the children not taken the initiative to drive home their true RIGHT TO EDUCATION on Children’s Day. Today, every child of Tikiapara goes to school.
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