Education empowered Barkhat to take charge of his future. Today, he works with 3,500 children in two government schools to help them do the same.
As a 19-year-old, when Mohammad Barkhat first expressed his desire to pursue his education instead of taking up a job, he was greatly discouraged from doing so by his family and friends. His father was the first to raise an objection, reminding him of his responsibilities towards the family as its eldest son.
Twenty years ago, extreme poverty forced his father to leave their native village in Bihar: “My father left Pachadi in search of better livelihood opportunities and came to Delhi,” Barkhat explains.
After his father started earning a steady income of Rs. 5,000 per month, the entire family moved to Delhi where they put up in a jhuggi (mud hut) at Shriram Colony in Rajeev Nagar.
The area is home to migrants from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana for whom education was never a priority. Most preferred to send their children to work in factories or neighbouring houses, in order to help with the desperate financial situation at home.
“If my father had his way, I would have never pursued my education. Like him, I would probably be working as a tailor and earning less than Rs 5,000 per month. My family would probably continue the fight to survive yet another day with barely enough food to eat,” says Barkhat.
The meagre monthly income Barkhat’s father earned was barely enough to keep their family afloat. Everyday was a struggle to make ends meet in the overcrowded slum.
“Ours was a tiny rented place shared by the nine of us. We rarely got electricity or water in the area,” recalls Barkhat.
It took the family ten years of struggle before they could afford to buy a two-room brick-and-cement house in the same neighbourhood. “We sold our native house and land to buy this one”, Barkhat remembers.
Today, the area has grown from a cluster of jhuggis to a neighbourhood that is home to brick-and-cement houses. Much of its transformation has taken place in the last couple of years, when a network of good roads was constructed, connecting the area to the capital city and, by extension, to its opportunities for livelihood.
The last time Barkhat and his family visited Pachadi was on the occasion of his 16-year-old sister’s wedding.
“My grandmother took her back to the village and got her married when she was 16. She is 27-years-old now and has three children. Her health deteriorated after her first pregnancy and worsened in the consecutive ones. I never questioned my grandmother’s decision back then. I was in the eighth standard and accepted the course of things as natural. It is only in the last five years that I started seeing things in a different light,” he says.
Five years ago, when Magic Bus began its operations in Khajoori Khas, Barkhat was one of its first volunteers.
“It was Sultana, my mentor, who influenced me to join the organisation. I had never seen such an outspoken and brave woman before. I was so inspired by her that I decided to become a confident leader, just like her,” he says.
Barkhat’s love for teaching and interacting with children helped him settle into his new role with ease. “After I finished high school, my father told me that if I wanted to pursue my education, I must fund myself. So I started giving tuitions to children. That is when I discovered my love for teaching,” he remembers. “As a volunteer, I was thrilled to find an exciting medium to talk to children about important issues that are not covered in school.”
After completing his 12th standard, Barkhat got a job in Magic Bus as a Youth Mentor.
“It came at the right time. We were impoverished. There were days when we had no food at home. We were forced to eat just chappatis and chutney,” he recalls.
The Rs 7,500 that Barkhat earned every month went a long way in allaying the acute financial crisis at home.
Barkhat’s role as a Youth Mentor brought him tremendous recognition in the community. He was soon offered the role of Training and Monitoring Officer with a salary of Rs. 15,000. The role required him to work with 3,500 children in two government schools. Barkhat was ecstatic and happily took up his new role with great gusto.
The increase in income translated into immediate relief from the strained financial situation at home. It also enabled him to enroll in a graduation course.
Today, Barkhat is a proud BCom graduate from Delhi University. He continues to work as a Training and Monitoring Officer and empowers underprivileged children through education.
“I am the first person in my community to have come this far. My peers in this community are mostly dropouts and work in pitiable conditions with meagre pay. Through my work, I also reach out to families that send their children to work. I have been quite successful in helping them understand the importance of education and have ensured that they enroll their children in school. When I give them my own example and talk about how education has changed my life, even reluctant parents are convinced,” he says.
At home, Barkhat has seen a remarkable change in his parents’ perceptions. “Since the very first day, my father was opposed to my decision of working in the social sector, in education. He thought I should learn tailoring instead. Today, he is proud of me and my decision to get a good education. My mother also no longer insists that my sisters should get married young,” he shares.
Today, when 24-year-old Mohammad Barkhat speaks to parents in his neighbourhood about the remarkable powers of education, he is no longer scoffed at. Instead, he is hailed as the embodiment of its potential.