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They Come to School When They Don't Have To? Why Yamana Pushta Is Desperate for Education
June 7, 2000

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At the largest slum in Delhi
It is a slum that's only twenty years old. One hundred twenty-five thousand people are living here in extreme poverty. Forty-five thousand children are not attending school. Welcome to Yamana Pushta, the largest slum in Delhi. Flies hover over open sewers as young children separate plastic bags from pounds of trash: they'll take this plastic and sell it for a pittance. With the few rupees they earn, there will be some chapatis or rice and dal for dinner.

This slum consists of predominantly Muslim refugees from the 1971 Pakistani war with Bangladesh. Thousands of Bengalis crossed the border into India and settled at Delhi in makeshift dwellings that are sometimes little more than tin roofs and thin concrete wall.

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How people in Yamana Pushta make their livelihood: separating plastic bags
Kavitha and I visit with Sunil Verma of India Vision. We accompany a group of Japanese donors who bring chalkboards and notebooks to gali, or open-air schools. This is an example of globalization on a good level. The money and supplies brought by foreign donors like these go directly to use.

"We don't need infrastructure," says Sunil. "We just need a teacher and a blackboard." In this way, a donor sees the real impact of their donation on the school. "If the school is run in your name," says Sunil, "you want others to see. That's how more people connect, and that's how we increase our resources." India Vision connects donors from all over the world with schools that truly make a difference within their communities.

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A gift from Japanese donors: chalkboards!
We visit the first school, a group of thirty-five young students in light blue shirts, some with kohl rimming their eyes, and we witness the glee with which they receive their chalkboards. Their teacher recites the alphabet and they shout along at the tops of their voices while the Japanese snap photos and grin widely, confident that their donation is useful.

Outside the small schoolroom, many onlookers, some with young children not attending school, gaze on. We notice one youngster who is not in school isn't as clean, attentive, or excited as the young ones inside. That's because, explains Sunil, "Education is not just about books. It's about cleanliness, health, hygiene, sanitation."

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Why do these kids want to go to school so bad? Is it because they love Math? Is it because they think English is great? Or is it for a chance of escaping the poverty they were born into? Why do you go to school? What are your reasons? Do you want to make yourself a better person or are you there because someone says you have to be?

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The teachers in the gali schools take time to teach the students because they know what a difference education makes. "Either you reach out and give them a composite package or you don't do anything at all for them," explains Sunil. These children face tremendous obstacles. Many must work or beg for a living, and find it difficult to leave work to go to school. Sometimes the school isn't within walking distance.

"Basic education is supposed to be available to each and every child in this's supposed to be a fundamental right," explains Sunil, but then he goes on to say that the inhabitants of this slum are not recognized as residents because of their refugee status. Therefore, the children here do not receive their rightful education.

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At the formal school in Yamana Pushta
India Vision, with the help of individual donors, steps in to fill that gap. Gali schools, which started here last year, currently educate 1,429 students in fifty-six of the open-air schools. By the end of 2001, Sunil hopes, there will be 400 of these schools. The word gali means "alleyway," and some of the informal schools we visit are simply rows of small children sitting in the street, shouting along with their teachers. There are informal schools, with no uniforms, as well as formal schools, where children wear uniforms and have the opportunity to advance past primary into secondary education. Students can "graduate" from an informal school into a formal one.

Sunil quotes some figures about the success of these community schools. Only four percent of school-age children go to school. However, of that four percent, more than eight out of ten have been able to stop or reduce the amount of begging they have to do. It's a small step, but a good one that leads away from crime, drug addiction, and a future without hope.


pittance - a tiny amount
globalization - making something worldwide in scope
illiteracy - inability to read or write

"That's the only way to save the next victim...if you educate them, you provide an alternative," Sunil says, with earnestness in his eyes.

Take a tour through the slums of Yamana Pushta.


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The second school we visit, which literally is in an alleyway, makes all of us smile, visitors and students alike. The kids shout "namaste!" and press their palms together in salutation. One student will lead the rest in a rehearsed greeting, but they all burst into laughter when the flash bulb goes off from our digital cameras! The teacher, with the help of Najiv, the project manager, shows us a group of flash cards, in Hindi and English, from which the students learn. The schools meet at regular hours, throughout the year.

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In front a small school sponsored by India Vision Foundation
"Because of regular school time, children come even when there's no school," says one of the teachers, smiling at the thought of a motivated student showing up to an empty alleyway, waiting around to see if there will be class today. The Japanese women nod their heads.

"If society gives you education, you should impart it to others," thinks Sunil. It's his most important message. He encourages everyone to give back to their society saying, "There are many ways to give back...Know that millions and millions of children do not have this fundamental right of education." He goes on to suggest that the root cause of all problems in everyday life is lack of education, especially illiteracy.

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Carrying books at the informal school in Yamana Pushta
One student we meet, named Razaq, has been practicing reading for a while now, and has improved so much that he's skipped a grade. "Shabash, Razaq, shabash," says Sunil, and pats him on the back. To encourage him, Razaq gets a reward of 100 rupees toward supplies. It's a large amount to a young boy in Yamana Pushta, but the greater gift to him is a priceless one: that of his education.


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