It is early in the morning. Every 3 minutes a metro passes through the Yamuna Bank Metro Station in New Delhi but the children studying beneath the elevated metro tracks are undeterred by this noise and keep on studying. One could sense their determination and eagerness to study amidst all the chaos surrounding them.
In fact, this informal ‘Under the Bridge School’ situated below the railway flyover is all about defying conventions.
There is no building for students to study in. There are no benches, only mats laid out on the floor and a few plastic chairs for teachers to sit on. The pillars of the metro covered with black paint to be used as a black board. A prominent sign ‘Free School Under the Bridge’ can be seen on the metro wall.
This is the scenario of the open roof school run by Mr. Rajesh Kumar Sharma who owns a grocery store less than 5 km away from the school.
Rajesh Kumar Sharma started this school back in 2007. Around 200 kids from the nearby slums attend this school which functions from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Most of the kids are children of labourers or farmers who can’t afford to send their kids to school. The children are taught elementary level English, Hindi, Mathematics and Geography. They even get to practice sports on Saturdays.
So, what inspired him to start this school?
Sharma has an interesting story. Although very keen to be an engineer, he was forced to drop out of college due to financial constraints in the family. Because of this, he had to set up a shop due to lack of a college degree.
One day while travelling along the metro bridge, he saw many kids just loitering around and wasting their time. Curious, he asked their parents about their education, and he got to know that due to financial reasons, they were not able to give them a proper education. This motivated him to start an open air school under the bridge where he would teach the children basic stuff.
He started with 2 children and later on many kids started attending the school. Soon, he invited the nearby municipal school principal, who upon seeing the eagerness in children admitted 60 of the students in his school.
Many people started volunteering for the school providing help in some form or the other. The metro authorities also supported him, providing short platforms for volunteering teachers and allowing the use of pillars as black boards. A small ready-made toilet was also provided for the girls and the afternoon lunch was usually provided with the help of donations.
Even though many of his students are enrolled in the nearby schools, they prefer attending the ‘Under the bridge’ school. According to them, they feel that they can learn more freely in this school.
Maybe the lack of college education motivated Sharma to start the school. It is unsung heroes like Sharma who improve the nation one step at a time.