Back in 2007, in Delhi’s biting Winter, Mr. Yogendra Jha was drinking tea at a roadside stall when he witnessed an incident that would play an important role in changing his career path. On the opposite side of the road, a passenger got into a hand-pulled rickshaw. The rickshaw-wala pulled his rickshaw just a step and then collapsed to the ground! The startled passenger as well as passersby thought he had fainted; but it turns out that he had died! On examination, they realized it was probably because of the cold as he had no warm clothes on him, and his body had turned partially blue.
Unfortunately, this was not the first story about the plight of poor rickshaw pullers that he came across. During his tenure as Assistant Director at the Ministry of Labor in Delhi, he was involved in a study on ‘Social Security to Rickshaw Pullers.’ The study was being done to introduce a financial support scheme for the pullers. During this two and half year study, he interacted with many pullers and heard all kinds of stories. Poverty (i.e. lack of food and clothing) had led to the death of some, while others used to take drugs every night before going to sleep on the footpath. One day, he questioned a group of pullers about this act, and they told him, “Hamme macchar kaatte hain, usse neendh nahi atti, toh hum drugs lete hein aur neendh aajati hein.” (Our sleep is disturbed when mosquitoes bite us at night. With drugs, despite the bites, we get sound sleep.”) Flabbergasted by the reply, he resolved to make the scheme a reality and get the much-needed support granted for them. Unfortunately, due to the transfer of a team-member and the retirement of another, the scheme did not take off.
Days later, when he so-happened to meet that same bunch of pullers whom he had interviewed for his research, he had no answer for them. It was at this meeting though that one of the rickshaw pullers requested him to educate his children instead – as that is something Mr. Jha could himself easily do, without the help of the Government or anybody else. It was this simple request that triggered the initial idea behind what is CSSAR today.
However, it started off much smaller. As a first step, Mr. Jha took a break from his work as Assistant Director and started teaching a handful of slum children. He taught at public places, like temples and parks, and sometimes even at the corner of footpaths. But this good deed came with its own set of challenges. The slum dwellers were wary of him and reluctant to send their children to his pop-up school because many like him had come to educate their children in the past, but they had all suddenly left. It was only when he earned their trust through his dedication, did he attract more parents to avail of his help.
With growing numbers of children, came thoughts of formalizing his efforts. Through a survey, he narrowed down the slums he would focus on. These were NangliJali, New Shyam Nagar, TC Camp Raghuvir Nagar and Bhajghera Village – the four lowest in terms of economic development of the people, as per the survey. And it was at New Shyam Nagar that the first center was set up.
CSSAR’s methodology and approach (i.e. improving children’s understanding of what is already being taught at school) was developed over the years .Interacting with more and more children at the centers made him and his team realize that the children had no proper understanding of topics being taught at school. A fifth standard student could not fluently read nor comprehend from a second standard textbook. Even written skills were poor!It is for this reason that instead of dividing students as per age, CSSAR assesses a child’s levels and accordingly enrolls them into the right class.
Currently, 463 students are being taught at its 10 centers across the city. As the organization’s efforts and reach are expanding, so are the challenges. One being finding good teachers who are willing to travel everyday into slums to teach. Another being a lack of funds to expand activities. All this and more keeps him busy; as he told me in jest, “I work 48 hours a day.” At the end of the day, it’s the children and improvements in their attendance and performance that keeps him going!