Over the last one week, Kanpur-based tea-seller, Mohammad Mahboob Malik’s stall situated on a footpath at the Sharda Nagar intersection has been attracting a lot of attention.
Why? Because the humble tea-seller is now a mini-celebrity.
The 29-year-old was hailed a ‘hero’ after he found a mention on former Indian cricketer VVS Laxman’s Twitter account.
Fondly known as Malik Bhai, the 29-year-old has been spending 80 per cent of his income to educate more than 40 underprivileged children since the last three years!
This is his story.
How it all started
Speaking to The Better India (TBI), Mohammad recalls, “I was born in a family with six siblings—five brothers and one sister. The mouths to feed were many and the sole breadwinner, just my father. He worked hard to put food on the table. But his earnings fell short to fund the education of six kids. With great difficulty, despite being academically-inclined, I was only able to study until Class 10.”
As a tea-seller, Malik saw many kids in the bastis whiling away their time and begging. Many of them were kids of single mothers who were barely scraping a living through menial jobs like working as house-helps. They found it difficult to put a square meal on the table, how would they save money to send their kids to school?
“I saw myself in those kids. I told myself, ‘Had I received an opportunity to study further, I would become something bigger and contributed to the country than sell tea at a roadside stall. So I decided I would do everything in my power to make those opportunities available to these kids,” informs Mohammad.
And that’s how the journey of educating these kids began three years ago. The man set up coaching centres in Malik Basti near Sharda Nagar, Gurudev Talkies and Kanshiram Colony in Chakeri, where he taught more than 350 kids free of cost.
He also hired teachers at a salary of Rs 2,000 each to teach kids for two hours each day.
“While it was certainly a beginning, the future for many of these kids seemed bleak. A two-hour class couldn’t help us bring about behavioural changes like maintaining hygiene or teach them moral values. The only way in which I could achieve it was to start my own school.”
It was a conversation with his friend, Nilesh Kumar, that sparked the idea of starting the initiative under an NGO.
And so Maa Tujhe Salaam Foundation was established in 2017. With five core team members and other volunteers, the organisation founded by Malik is now running a primary school where it is providing free and quality education to 40 kids.
The students are provided with everything they need including uniforms, shoes, socks, bags and other stationery without paying a rupee!
And all the funds required to run this school, which operates out of a rented building, come from Malik’s savings and his earnings from the tea-stall.
“Though right now, my savings and earnings are only able to support 40 kids studying from kindergarten to Class four, I intend to work even harder and extend the classes up to Class 10 for 200 students in the coming years,” he adds.
“If you meet our kids, you’ll know how talented they are. They just needed a platform and the right kind of support. Now, when someone asks them about their dream job, their eyes brighten up as they talk about them,” he smiles.
Mohammad Mahboob Malik’s routine
Mohammad wakes up at 5 AM every day and works at the tea-stall from 5:30 to 7:30 AM. At 7:30, when he leaves the stall to go to the school, his father takes over the stall.
He leaves the school at 2:30 PM and resumes work at the tea-stall from 3 PM to 11 in the night. And the cycle continues.
“I try to save at least Rs 500 per day from the stall for the school. Sustaining is hard, but I am not giving up. Thanks to VVS Laxman, a lot of people have appreciated my work. And though nobody has come forward to fund it, I am working hard to give wings to the dreams of these kids. My savings are depleting, but I am working twice as hard to keep it running,” he informs.
The rent for the school building is almost Rs 10,000 per month. The teachers at the school, who are also members of the core team—Mansi Shukla, Pankaj Goswami, Akanksha Pandey, do not take any salary. Malik’s older brother, Noori Malik has been supporting him wholeheartedly in the endeavour.
Shedding light on the change of perception of those around him, he says, “Many in my neighbourhood used to call me ‘mad’ and criticised me for ‘wasting my savings on social service’. But now, when my work is being admired and praised, the same people pat me on the back.”
Malik is in the process of registering the NGO and obtaining an 80G certificate to ensure good Samaritans can come forward to help.
As he bids adieu, Malik says, “I have dedicated my life to the service of those around me, and I will continue to do so until my last breath. If you find someone around you who is taking even the smallest step to make the lives of the underprivileged better, I request you to support those heroes.”
If this story inspired you, get in touch with Malik Bhai on 9839949974 and extend the help you can!
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)