Kanpur-based Nitin Kumar’s childhood recalls watching his mother, who worked as a domestic help in various households, toil hard to put together meals for her family. She earned a measly Rs 25 a day, and the school fees for her children cost Rs 300 a month. “My father never had a steady job, and my parents’ earnings were insufficient to feed our family of six and bear the expense of our education,” Nitin says.
The 28-year-old tells The Better India, “Very often, my siblings and I would eat the stale, leftover food given to my mother by the households where she worked. Meanwhile, she’d mix sugar with water to fill her own stomach.”
“Even as I managed to attend school, we did not have enough money for notebooks, pencils, pens, uniforms, and other expenses such as class projects or contributions for school events. My classmates attended private tuitions, but I had to rely on myself for studies,” he says.
Regardless, Nitin found his way and pursued a degree in law, which he is set to complete this year. But to ensure that young students like him do not struggle the way he did, he teaches 200 students from nursery to Class 12, giving them lessons in their respective subjects, as well as others like Sanskrit, French, and music.
‘Ghat waala school’
Nitin says that living through such tough times helped him realise that academics could improve his financial conditions and lifestyle.
“My elder brother quit studying in Class 8 and took a job to financially support the family. Meanwhile, after completing Class 10 in 2007, I started offering free tuition to children in the slums. In these areas, parents are often not educated themselves, and children fail to understand the importance of education at a young age. Moreover, there is no person to guide them, unlike in the case of students from privileged backgrounds,” he says.
He adds that educated and working parents have a good understanding of how important it is to make kids study. “They use their knowledge to guide their children, recognise their talents, and channel efforts in a way that helps fulfil their child’s career ambitions. But such initiatives rarely happen with slum kids,” he says.
So Nitin started offering free education by putting only one condition for his students. Everyone studying with him had to promise that they would teach younger children for free.
The number of students increased as he reached Class 12, and he had to start looking for a bigger space. By 2009, he started conducting evening coaching for children at Kamleshwar Ghat along the Ganga River. These kids mostly belonged to government schools and led the same life as him.
In 2015, he named it ‘ghaat wala school’, which means a school at the banks. “Children from weaker sections of societies, like those from slum areas, or those whose parents were ragpickers, found this arrangement convenient. They were more comfortable studying in an open space than at someone’s house” he notes.
The evening activity caught the attention of other students as well as locals and devotees in the area who, out of curiosity, approached Nitin. Some then became part of his endeavour.
Harsh Shukla is one such person. “One evening in 2018, I was passing through the ghats after visiting a temple in the vicinity when I saw children studying at the river banks. I inquired about the topics that they were learning and about the unique initiative. I was impressed by what Nitin was doing, so I decided to volunteer to teach as well,” he says.
Harsh, a graduate in science, says he himself had struggled to seek career guidance from experts during his academic years. So he decided to help students with revisions and explore career options. “I do it as a service and not for financial or social media recognition,” he adds.
Over the past seven years, Nitin and his team of volunteers have been teaching 200 students and have even paid their school fees. Some of these students are now completing Class 12 and preparing for higher studies.
Manasi Nisar is one such student of Class 12, who has been studying with Nitin since she was in Class 8. “I belong to Dibnipurwa, a village across the river. I visited the bank with a friend of mine and when I saw Nitin and his students, I asked him if I could also attend. I inquired about the fees and he told me the classes were free,” she says.
She says attending classes every day for an hour or two helped her in English, Hindi and Mathematics. “I never liked studying mathematics, but Nitin helped me develop an interest in the subject. I also took basic lessons in Sanskrit and French,” she says.
Manasi adds that she and four others are the only girls from their village who have made it beyond Class 8. “Our village does not have a higher secondary school, and parents do not encourage girls to study in institutions located far away. But Nitin convinced the parents and paid our fees, allowing us to further pursue studies,” she says, adding that she aims to become an Air Force pilot one day.
Anita, also one of Nitin’s students, says her marks have improved since she started taking lessons at his school. “He teaches us how to attempt exams, how questions need to be answered, and how to plan our studies well,” she adds.
For a life of self-respect and dignity
While Nitin is witnessing the results of his efforts over the years, his struggle for finances has not ended. “In 2018, I established Ek Nayee Rahh Foundation to seek donations for monetary support. But it is mainly the private individuals in the vicinity who help us fund the studies of these children,” he says.
He adds that the COVID-19 lockdown only made matters worse. “Earlier, the open school gave us visibility, and passers-by often helped us with money or stationery items. But after COVID-19, our classes have now moved to a small room nearby, away from the sight of those walking by,” he says.
He says that Nandini Upadhyay, associate professor and his mentor at Dayanand Law College, has been helping by paying the room rent and electricity bills. “She also teaches as time permits,” he adds.
Nitin says he has tried to find a job, but the hunt has been unsuccessful so far. “I need money to fund these children’s education, or sometimes take them for dance or sports competitions. At times, I do have money to fill fuel in the bike to drop them for a dance competition,” he notes.
However, for now, his biggest worry is to fund Manasi’s education, as well as that of the other four girls who will soon finish their Class 8 exams. “I want them to seek admission at the university or a government college. Even if one student finds a good job, it will be a success and inspire many others from the village,” he says.
Citing an example, he says, “It’s like Geeta Phogat, the wrestler. After she became an international wrestling champion, many women were inspired and took up the sport. Similarly, getting good jobs will motivate other girls to pursue higher studies in her village.”
Sharing another reason for the girls to succeed, Nitin adds, “The residents in the village often ask, ‘Why are the girls studying? Will they become district collectors or get jobs? What will they achieve in life by studying?’ But they fail to understand that only education can help them achieve those positions. It is a long process of putting years of studies to achieve such results, and the residents have to realise the same.”
Nitin says, “Education is also about self-respect and living a life of dignity in the society. Despite hurdles, I will continue the work of educating these children until they become examples for many.”
To help Nitin in his cause, you can send him money via Google Pay at 6389007700
OR, transfer funds to the following details:
Bank Name – SBI P.P.N MARKET 96/12 PARADE KANPUR NAGAR
A/C Name – EK NAYEE RAAH FOUNDATION
A/C NO. – 39083989906
Edited by Divya Sethu