When Group Captain (retd) Sharad Tewari and his wife Savita, a social activist, received news that their son, Squadron Leader Shishir Tewari, had lost his life in the Mi-17 V5 crash in Arunachal Pradesh’s Tawang district on 6 October 2017, they were devastated.
“Shishir was a committed man, who believed that every individual must contribute to make the nation better in their own capacity,” shares 55-year-old Savita with The Better India.
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To continue their son’s dream of working for the country, the husband-wife duo, who are based in Ghaziabad, established a trust named ‘Shaheed Sqn Ldr Shishir Tewari Memorial Charitable Trust.’
Under its aegis, they began teaching around 100 impoverished children in Delhi’s Yamuna Khadar slum, from 15 August 2018 onwards.
“Children in slums have very few educational resources at their disposal and to worsen the situation, their parents often force them to drop out to take up menial jobs. Health is another area that is generally neglected in the slums. Taking our knowledge and whatever resources we had, we started working there,” Sharad (60) tells TBI.
It was not very difficult for the couple to mobilise the parents to send their kids to the informal school. “It was almost as if they were looking for a helping hand, we just had to extend it,” says Savita.
Seeing their efforts, the slum committee even allowed an open space inside the slum to take the classes.
Friends and family of Tewari’s also came forward to help in the initiative through donations in the form of stationery and money. Some offered their time and volunteering services to run the programme.
The informal school functions in two shifts, five days a week and is entirely free for slum children. Currently, 350 children from class one to twelve are a part of this initiative.
“Children of rickshaw-pullers, wagel labourers and domestic workers attend the classes after school hours. We have 25 volunteers who help them with their school homework and teach all subjects, including Maths Social Sciences and Science,” shares Savita.
The couple also assists children of class five and above to avail the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) quota in government schools.
For girls who prefer dropping out after eighth or tenth grade, volunteers have started vocational teaching, and for now, stitching training is imparted.
In the areas of health, hygiene and sanitation, the trust often conducts seminars and workshops inviting experts to sensitise children about the importance of living a healthy life.
“In the last one year, we have also focussed on non-academic teaching— and focussed on imparting knowledge about basic hygiene and sanitation, the importance of clean surroundings, maintaining menstrual hygiene, and so on. The children have been fast learners and cooperative. A change can be noticed in their mannerisms and behaviour. There is a lot of respect coming from their way, and on some days they can be seen making their area litter-free,” says Savita.
Where there is a positive impact, the trust also faced backlash and threats from the locals on several occasions. “Some locals feel like we are intruding in their personal space, while some feel that education is not necessary as the goal is to earn money at the end of the day. We have embraced the goods but fought challenges with an honest intention,” she adds.
A few months ago, the trust expanded its activities to begin teaching 50 children more under a metro shed.
The couple has dedicated their time to this initiative and hope to expand it to other slums. They wish to see these kids become lawyers, engineers, pilots, soldiers, journalists, and so on one day and serve the country, just like their son did.
“It was Shishir’s valour and philosophy that inspired us to start this noble deed. This is the best way we can pay tribute to our son. Wherever he is, I am sure he will be happy and proud to see us doing this work,” concludes Savita.
If you wish to help the trust, which also works with old-age homes and orphanages in any form, click here.
You can also reach out to the Tewari’s at: firstname.lastname@example.org or +91 98911 95135
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)