The Great Adventure of Getting 4 Underprivileged Kids to School
A story told through pictures
Our journey began in late July 2021, when I first met these children in the playground park in front of my home. I was playing my ukulele & they kept glancing at me. I smiled & waved back at them. They waved back shyly. I asked my little sister & her best friend to play with these children, who also hesitated for a moment.
So I put on my elderly wise hat. I explained to them that they’d need these people skills later in life, to be successful.
No dice. The two girls stared back at me unimpressed.
I improvised hastily.
‘What if you think of it as a dare? A 30 second challenge. Talk to them.’
There must be some unignorable Achilles heel linking human beings & challenges, because both of them immediatly sprang up from the bench & ran off. My dare was in motion.
They ended up getting along with the 4 younger children. Barely 5 minutes later, the entire gang was running circles around the park — catching each other.
It was beautiful to witness. Open laughter, smiles brighter than the sun, and undisguised squeals of joy surrounded us as the kids sped past me, hair curls flying in the wind.
The eldest girl of the 4 siblings, Simran, talked to me for an hour on the very first evening we met. That little girl’s intelligence & charm won my heart. She knew all kinds of skills no kids her age, or even perhaps my age, succeeded at. She could cook, knit & sew. She was a compelling storyteller. She could even dance with an unmatched vigour.
But she and her siblings hadn’t been to school in years. They managed their house’s chores as their mother worked tirelessly in people’s homes, all day, to make ends meet.
So, I delegated the work of teaching these kids some tuition, to my little cousin sister Vatsala, and her friend Sukhman.
That’s me & Vatsala, to your left. We’re only excluding Sukhman because she does not like to appear in pictures. Both Vasu & Sukhman are 13 & 11 respectively.
The classes were a hit.
They began regularly in the park. Sometimes the girls got everyone to play, pose & goofily dance around once the paperwork was complete.
But I knew there was a bigger mission at hand. I had to get these kids to school. And so my month long adventure with Chandigarh government schools began.
The very next morning, I headed to the primary government school in my sector.
I had once volunteered there as a storytelling teacher. I was hoping my reputation there would get these kids on priority basis for admission, but to my surprise, I discovered that the principal from my 2019 memory had been replaced. The new principal patiently listened to me, and then redirected me to the admissions incharge in the Govt high school, half a kilometre away.
I set off on my bicycle.
The lady I met there was in a hurry. It was somewhat hilarious how she asked me for my name, but when I tried to tell her what it was, I was dismissed with a flick of her hand. There were no seats left there either. I was advised by her to go to the adjoining sector’s school for seats.
I cycled again, directed there by the kind elderly guard at the school’s gate.
The principal there, was not present. I tried again the next morning.
The principal, next morning— told me he had no seats available either. He sent me to another sector’s girls’ govt school. And the principal over there, explained the Right To Education Act to me, impressing upon me that by law, my sector’s government schools were bound to give my wards admission.
And so, I was whisked back to the primary school where I had begun. I explained my troubles to the principal there, again. She assured me that she could talk to the admissions incharge lady herself; see what could be done.
I went to her the next day. She said that the admissions incharge had refused. They were going to redirect me to yet another nearby Govt school, the next day. By now, I was starting to feel like a worn out ping pong ball.
My father stepped in at this point. He urged me to write a public tweet, tagging the relevant government authorities. He got on the phone with the Head of the Education Department. He also got a news journalist to call me & cover my story.
And so, suddenly the next morning, our story had hit the papers.
There was a big fallout. My father suddenly received a call from the CRC office of the Govt. High School I had gone to before. The lady personally apologised to me; then called me to her office the next morning. Mrs. Kaur dispersed her meeting at once, when she saw me arrive at her office the next morning.
She was a spirited, warm lady who explained everything that could be done for the kids. She got down their details on paper, without asking for previous documents that were hard to get together.
She said she would redirect me, just one last time, to a government school in the opposite sector where this time, I would certainly not be refused.
I went home, amazed by this change. When I started praising this before my father, he provided me with a reality check.
‘What do you think, Vanni? This is not just coming out of the goodness of their hearts. They must have received a stern word from higher up.
We were officially invited for a meeting. The next morning, I took the four children, and their mother, on a walking voyage to the huge Govt. school in the next sector. My own mother, Dr. Neena, had accompanied us as well, to make sure we would definitely get the job done this time.
This school was the most beautiful one I had seen yet.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget the awed expression on Janvi’s face, as she held my hand, when we were crossing the gates. The children’s energy was something palpable you could feel in the air, by then. I prayed to God that we would not to be disappointed. It’d be much harder, to see these kids’ expressions break, especially when their mom had dressed them up so prettily today.
I prayed for success.
It was a success.
I met two teachers in an empty classroom. Mrs. Monica & Mrs. Suman had been allocated to me. Kind, warm and quick to connect with the children, they immediatly made them feel at home. They gave them papers & colour crayons to draw with. Simran, the eldest, took an apititude test. She passed with flying colors, thanks to all the practise given to her by us. The teachers made me fill out a few admission forms. Parcels of stationary was handed out to the children.
There was something ecstatic in the air that morning, in that cool sunlit classroom.
I felt like I was just standing there, witnessing all this magic happen around me. The kids scampered about; my mother & their mother sat smiling. There was a kind of sacred happiness I could see reflected on everyone’s faces. This was one of those moments that give life meaning.
The most moving sight that day, was their mother, Lajma ji. The lady was barely in her 30's, yet she had lived a lifetime of hardships by now. Married at 16, she’d been in a happy marriage, with four young children — before her husband Sunil passed away. Life had become an immense struggle since then, she told me. Tireless work, sleepless nights, mental & emotional breakdowns. She dealt with the pressures of a second marriage, which was made necessary by her family for her societal security.
This woman had powered through everything. She was the biggest force behind this mission, not me, even though I may appear as the protagonist of this story.
I could see in her eyes, that this was the happiest day of her life.
She blessed me with much effusion and humbling happiness. Her words and shining gratitude were like a balm to me — making me feel as though everything had finally worked out.
We had gotten these kids to school. They had been given wings — now it time for them to aim for the sky.