It was a usual sunny day in early March in the Capital. But as the day progressed, it quickly became one of the most memorable days of my life for it filled me with the rich experience and joy of teaching children from the so-called economically weaker sections of society in a Delhi village, adjoining Sarai Kale Khan. The joy and enthusiasm I encountered while teaching these kids was inspiring. It made me feel more at the receiving end rather than at the giving end.
Life’s true joys are simple and non-materialistic, a truth I realised when I saw the children’s joy at a free class. They were very eager to learn. We were greeted affectionately upon entering our makeshift classroom set up under the shade of a tree; at the end, we were thanked profusely when we left the class. I grappled with some home-truths that day. I also learnt that while we so-called better-off people often complain in our pursuit of the ‘good’ things and other luxuries in life, these simple village children were happy just to attend our makeshift class to obtain some learning.
The open-air classroom was filled with positivism, freshness and bright glorious sunshine. The village class was surrounded by lush green farms. The classroom was part of an initiative by US citizen, William Tucker who uses innovative teaching methods developed by the US-based Charity United to teach these children. Tucker, who is a civil engineer now dedicates his life to teaching the less-privileged in a host of countries around the world. He is co-founder and president at Clarity Learning Centres and wants to make the right to education a reality in all parts of the world.
Tucker has been involved in humanitarian and educational work for over thirty years in four continents, where he has tackled issues related to human rights, drug education, juvenile delinquency, and crime prevention. Tucker is currently based in Delhi and is deeply engaged in educational projects through Charity United in the city. His aim is to bring humanitarian aid and education to children. He says, “Let me help others by putting them into a state where they can help themselves and others.”
Tucker encouraged me to begin teaching, and I took up some colourful placards that taught the names of several local fruits and vegetables in English. For these kids, aged 5 to 15, gratitude lay in simply learning basic English words like the names of animals, body parts, geometric shapes, vegetables, and fruits – words that crop up regularly in everyday conversation. Knowledge of such words is what Tucker believes proves useful to them as they grow up to become young citizens of the country.
Another thing that woke me up from my city slumber was that these children were dressed in decent clothes and were clean and bathed. It totally shattered the stereotypical myth of dirty slum children dressed in torn rags that I had hitherto harboured in my head.
As the hour of teaching progressed, more of my beliefs of slum and village kids was shattered. Instead, I found them to be lively, boisterous, willing to learn and happy, which was in contrast to some rich kids who generally behave brattish, influenced as they are by pop culture and silly cartoons that centre around violence and foolish make-belief. I watch upper class kids in the malls all the time – compared to these simple kids, they now appeared to me to be petty and ungrateful ― and often complaining about not getting what they want from their parents.
There’s a lot to learn from these children and the kind of families they come from. Rather than just focussing on materialistic pursuits, let us all pledge to join people like William Tucker for his volunteer projects. Let’s help these children with a sense of passion and assist them to become as educated as us. This is the key to building a bright future for India as it is these children and their families that need to be rehabilitated and educated the most. They are the future of our nation and of the world.
After my short stint of teaching, I feel truly enriched and inspired to teach children with special needs.