Meet Shyam Bihari Prasad, or ‘Uncle’ as he is known to his 30 wards, who teaches street kids on a pavement in Vasant Kunj, Delhi.
It all started during the cold winter months of 2013, when Shyam Bihari Prasad, a retired Assistant General Manager from BSNL Patna, shifted to Vasant Kunj in New Delhi to live with his daughter.
This elderly gentleman would visit the Hanuman temple near his home every morning, where he would often see several children standing outside, begging the devotees for prasad.
One morning, ‘Uncle’ (as he is called by everyone), gave his share of prasad to a child. On another day, he bought biscuits from the shop near the temple gate for a few other children.
“All these children have working parents who lock up their homes when they go to work. They have to leave their kids outside to fend for themselves. Classes in the local government school start only at 10 am, so these kids beg for food outside the temple before going to school,” says Prasad.
On interacting with the kids, Prasad learnt more about their school and the different classes the children attended. He also asked them some basic questions and realized they had no grasp of simple concepts in science and maths, nor any knowledge of spelling and writing in English and Hindi. One morning, he asked some of the children if they would like to study. On receiving an overwhelmingly positive response, he promised to meet them on the pavement outside the temple the next day at 8 am.
Ever since that cold winter morning in November 2013, classes for these street children have been on in full swing on the pavement outside the temple.
Like any regular school, Uncle gets the children to say a prayer at 8 am every morning before they sit down to study. Several local residents take a keen interest in the classes as well, offering to pitch in with their own time whenever they can. Manju madam comes in to teach the children English, Singh bhaiya helps them with maths, and Kirtika ma’am gives lessons in both science and maths. There are others who donate books and stationery and some who buy snacks for the children.
“On rainy and cold days, when it is difficult to sit in the open, we move into the temple premises. Nothing stops Uncle from taking classes,” say Pavitra and Anjali, Class VI students at the local government school.
“When we first started the pavement classes, we only had one borrowed mat to sit on and no chair or table for me. It did not look like a place of learning. But local people walked out of their shops and offered help, donating whatever I requested them to. It’s heartening to see how God sends his messengers to help those who are helping themselves and others,” says the most grateful Uncle.
Despite the din of honking vehicles and chattering of passers-by, the children here are focused and love to read and write. Although they do get up to mischief sometimes, they are clear on why they are here attending these classes.
Babu Sahib and Rohit are Class IX students in the government school at B1, Vasant Kunj. They say, “Although school is fun because we get to interact with other children, learning happens best here with Uncle. All of us, of different ages and from different classes, get individual attention.” The children do not feel intimidated when asking their beloved ‘Uncle’ questions related to their studies. “He does not get angry with wrong answers,” says Lakshman of Class VII. Prasad also brings text books, story books and comics for the children to borrow and read.
“The competitive text books he brings for those of us who study in higher classes are extremely helpful and informative,” says Kirti Ranjan of Class XI.
“These children did not know how to sit or talk properly earlier. They would use abusive language to communicate with each other. Today, they have changed and help each other with studies,” says a proud Prasad.
‘Uncle’ treats his 30 wards like his grandchildren. He chides them gently when they do not study or behave badly but treats them lovingly for the most part. The children also respond to him with respect and affection and are eager to please him.
Shyam Bihari Prasad has turned the lives of many of these children around. They are doing well in their school exams and are spending happy and fruitful mornings instead of begging on the street.
For more information one can contact him at [email protected]
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Aparna Menon is a freelance writer, writing for various newspapers for the past 10 years. Her main fields of interest are wildlife, heritage and history. A keen traveler, she loves to read and write and does a lot of art work too.