The Optimist Citizen
Neeraj Murmu

How this rescued child miner started a free school for other kids like him

Neeraj Murmu was rescued from the shackles of mining labour at a very early age by the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation. He started a free school for the underprivileged children in his village that won him the coveted Diana Awards last year.

Neeraj Murmu began his life in the darkness of mica mines. His father, being a farmer and the sole bread earner of the family of nine didn’t earn enough to even be able to afford two cooked meals a day. To bring some relief to the situation, Neeraj began working as a miner at a very tender age. Describing his life at the mine Neeraj told us how on some days, he would work the entire day just to be turned back home empty-handed. 

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Neeraj’s tryst with education

Neeraj would have probably missed out on education and continued to work in those life-threatening conditions. It was the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation (KSCF) that rescued him in 2011. KSCF did not just rescue him and many others from the clutches of child labour, but also got them enrolled in the nearest government school. It was at this point in life that Neeraj got to experience the world of education for the first time. 

Neeraj Murmu with his Students
Neeraj Murmu with his Students

Neeraj was enrolled in class 8th right at the beginning. It was indeed difficult for Neeraj to get settled in the academic world initially. But it was his determination and resilience which later led him to excellence. It didn’t take him long to fall in love with the new world. During a brief conversation with us, Murmu told us how school brought him happiness. He would not just get the opportunity to study but also make new friends. The opportunity to eat well each day under the Mid-day meal scheme was another relief he had longed for a while.

A pledge to educate: The beginning of a mission

Neeraj moved to Chennai to pursue a diploma in Engineering. Some unfortunate health issues forced him to move back. Yet his passion for knowledge was unstoppable. He came back to his village and got himself enrolled at IGNOU for a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. It was during this time he noticed a lot of kids around him wanted to study but had no means to. He had by then made up his mind to do something about it. He soon rented a room for Rs. 500 and began holding classes there. Soon, his friends and relatives joined in to contribute as volunteers. The school never charges any fee for educating the children. However, the guardians often willingly contribute to the school seeing the benefit the kids get out of it. Most of these contributions are either in kind or in the form of any service to the school. With a little help, Neeraj has consolidated the foundation of what now looks like a community-owned school. Now the school imparts education to around 150 children enrolled in classes from 1st to 8th.

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Neeraj also aims to take Mr Satyarthi’s vision forward. Neeraj often refers to Mr Satyarthi as his idol. He joined the organization to save other child labourers after his rescue. He was a member of the Bal Panchayat during this time. Later he got elected as the Chairman of Gram Yuva Mandal he took the initiative further to rescue many others. Murmu has so far saved 20 minors from mica mines and aims to continue doing this for the rest of his life.   

Diana award is a memorial honorary accolade, celebrated each year to laud such empowering achievements. The award was established in 1999, in the fond remembrance of Princess Diana of Wales. The award is given to changemakers, innovators, and social workers who have been exceptional in bringing a social impact in the world through their work.

Vision for the future

As of now, he is working to get his school registered under the state board. Additionally, he is also looking forward to a meeting with Jharkhand’s CM to get his initiative funded by the State Government. A boy who had never been to school in his early childhood now has found an undying love for education. Neeraj aims at taking his schools and movement forward at a national level. He works for the dream to abolish child labour from all the regions of the country and also to bring education to each child.

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