Kolkata: Life was least promising for Kolkata’s 6-year-old Asad Khan after his father’s demise. Unable to bear the family expenses, his mother got married for the second time in Punjab. But the marriage did not work out and the mother-son duo escaped back to their city of origin. Living in penury, little Asad began working in a slipper manufacturing unit in Kolkata, till he got in touch with Umeed Academy.
The dirty, unkempt boy, who seemed disinterested in studies couldn’t even tell his name. But once at Umeed, he got it all -name, education and document. Similar is the story of several other toddlers who either lost their father at a young age or have parents who are rickshaw pullers or beggars. But a thread that ties them together is, the Umeed Academy, which has given them the hope of a better life and a dream to be leaders in future.
“The name Asad Khan has been given by us and the academy made his birth certificate. All the children here have similar stories. And most could not get two meals in a day at their respective homes,” Wali Rahmni, the founder of Umeed Academy told eNewsroom.
Inculcating education in a unique way
The land of Kolkata, which has given Missionaries of Charity to the world, is now nurturing an educational cradle that provides exceptional education in sync with the ICSE curriculum to the poorest of the poor.
The academy runs a 12-hour schooling system. During this time frame, the center not only takes care of the academic needs but also the health and personal life of the enrolled kids. Along with coaching, they are provided six meals a day, uniform and even stationary.
The students report at the center by 7.30 in the morning and stay on till 7.30 in the evening. They study with the help of smart boards and projectors. There is a computer lab too in the academy that began with three students in 2018 that now has around 230 children.
Every year, along with the number of students increasing, the academy also grows by one class. Till date, the academy has students enrolled till class IV. The lesson planning is done at three levels– annual, weekly and daily lessons. The daily lessons are explained in detail, while an academic year has been divided into six cycles.
Every class has two sets of two teachers to train them. The first set teaches between 7.30 am to 3.30. The second set of teachers is called the House Parents who look after the kids post 3.30 pm.
There is a sports activity too. And all students have been taught mixed martial arts. The academy kids have been recently selected for a state-level martial arts competition.
But all this did not happen in a day. Years of effort, perseverance of its 23-year-old founder Wali Rahmani known as Abba Ji among kids has made it possible. Wali, himself is a final-year law student. Sharing his vision, Wali said, “Our philosophy is providing ‘education of the rich’ to the poor. We want to give the best education to poor kids. I do not believe that something is better than nothing. If we are doing something for them, it has to be the best. So we are providing kids of the academy modern contemporary education.”
“We also give emotional conditioning and respect to each student. Because when they will start living a life with dignity then they will respect others too,” he pointed out.
The sight of poverty
Wali believes poverty is a disease and it is an ancestral one. If some major intervention does not take place in the life of the impoverished then it is carried forward from one generation to the next.
“When I see poor kids begging or scavenging, it shakes me to the core. Even as a child I used to think about what I could do for such kids, so that they would be able to come out of poverty.” mentioned the founder of Umeed.
Wali, on being asked about the idea behind the 12-hour study-activity schedule, said, “We try not to send them back to the gethoes for longer hours, as they can be exposed to drug addiction and sexual violence out there. So, we send them back around a time when they can just fall asleep.”
Coping during Lockdown
“Lockdown was a difficult period for us. None of the parents of our kids had a smartphone. So we could not move on to online teaching. So, we had our teachers prepare lessons and homework, which was dispatched to the homes of children. Once the kids would complete their assigned tasks, their parents or guardians would submit those copies. This is somehow how we tried to continue with their studies.”
What do the teachers have to say?
The academy has around 16 highly qualified trained teachers.
Abhishek Mukharjee, who has served in the Indian Army for 18 years, is the manager of the academy. The army veteran said, “I am doing this work for myself. The satisfaction of working in the Army was different. Here I can tell my children that by serving these kids, I am serving the country. Generally, we do not like to come close to beggars and ragpickers. But here along with educating them, we also do many things of our own like cleaning them and applying ointments if they need it.”
“When I tell people that I work for an NGO, they might think we are making money like many others. But if they visit us, then they will realise how good a job this institution is doing,” he added.
Qari Mohammed Fayazuddin, another teacher stated, “We have never gone to any school, so we had no idea about classroom teaching. But what I have seen and done here is something completely different from what is done in Madrasas. Here it is a very unique way of teaching. And for us, it is like serving Allah (Khidmat-e-Khalq), through kids.”
Muskan Sharma, associated with the academy holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics. Both her parents are teachers, her father teaches in an army school. She mentioned, “What I found here is that the relationship between teacher and student is not limited to teaching. We spend time with them, eat and play too. We build emotional bonding with them, as our utmost priority remains to make them better individuals. Here teaching is more of a circular way than just a two-way learning process.”
“We want to make every child an asset to society. We do character building for every child so that tomorrow they can support others,” said coordinator Gazala Imam, a senior teacher.
Plan and public support
Some well-wishers have donated a piece of land for Umeed Academy, which is at present functioning in a rented building. The new campus will be developed as a residential center. It will have a football ground as well as a basketball court among others.
“Annual expense for sustaining a student’s need is Rs 30000. And Umeed’s children will soon have a new address. Are you willing to invest in shaping the lives of our future leaders?” asks Wali.