The children studying in Govt. Lower Primary Schools of Bangarpet Taluk, Karnataka, come from very poor backgrounds. One of the main challenges faced by these children in their learning process is the access to learning materials, especially notebooks and stationeries.
Govt schemes implemented in the schools here helps children with uniforms, mid-day meals, textbooks and several teaching aids. The schemes as yet do not include notebooks for all school children.
Despite all the support they get, due to either economic factors or negligence and lack of awareness of parents these children end up struggling to get notebooks to schools.
We have been conducting notebooks drive for the past 4 years. Every year we have tried best to reach out to as many children as we can. This year also we have distributed more than 5000 notebooks to around 1300 children in more than 30 Govt schools here in Bangarpet. This is more than 10 times the number of children when we started this drive four years ago.
This year’s notebooks drive was very special. Dhanush and Mahimay studying in 5th Standard from the Lower Primary School, Indranagar came to me and said “Miss, we want to help you in the notebooks drive this year".I said " thats a very nice idea, how do you want to help me"
Dhanush said " its four years now miss, we have seen you distribute books in the past years. You first bring all the books and keep them in the store room of our school, then all teachers come and give you a list and then you take the books out and give it to them, they take it to their schools. We will help you in this work".
I said “very good, this work will involve lots of mathematics, you need to count, sort, add and subtract etc. I am sure it will be a nice exercise to brush your arithmetic skills"
A wave of giggles ran through the two boys, the kind of waves that come to us when we feel sweetly fooled. Mahimay pitched in “Miss, you do the maths please, we are grown up boys now, very strong boys, and we will help you in bundling, moving and carrying the books. What do you think?"
I said “Ok this sounds fine too, let’s get started".
I saw that sigh of relief the two boys breathed. We entered the store room and the boys immediately got to work, they cleared a patch of books for us to set up our work desk. They rushed and got my handbag, laptop and file with the list of schools etc, they set everything up for me to begin the work.
I told them that I understand that they are not interested in the mathematics part but they are strong boys who will help me move the books and bundle them etc. But I just want them to understand the process once.
So I took out a list of schools with the details of individual schools in a cluster with total number of children in each school divided class wise. I told them that each such paper is the detail of one school; we need to see the name of the school and then write the name in a post-it card. Later count the number of students and then bundle 5 books for each student.
I started doing the calculations and asking them to bundle the books and stick the post-it note on the bundle for identification.When the teachers came we handed the bundles to the teachers.
The next day, I fell ill and could not go to the school. The HM of the school called me up and asked me if I wish to cancel the distribution for the day.
I wondered what to do because we had already informed 10 teachers to come and collect the books.
I asked if Dhanush and Mahimay have come to school, she said they have come and instinctively understood that I wanted to speak to them. I spoke to Dhanush over the phone and asked him if he will really help me today...I told him I very unwell and teachers are on their way.
The bundles are not yet ready.
He immediately said, "yes miss, we will do it". I said "but what about the maths part? Should I ask HM to help there?" He fell silent. I told the HM to assist in today's distribution.
I went to the store room the same day in the late evening just to make sure that things are in place and the doors are locked properly, with a bit of rains in the last month I did not want the books to get wet.
I reached the school and what I saw there was so heart warming.
Dhanush and Mahimay had tried their addition and multiplication on many bits of papers that were scattered on the floor, some were right some were wrong. There were many more post-its lying on the floor too with incorrect spellings of the school names. Then my eyes moved to the bundle of books.
The children had bundled all the remaining 4000 books! They had sorted, counted, bundled and arranged them so neatly. "Must be the HM's work" I thought to myself and called her up to thank here for the extra effort.
Before I could even say hello to her, she said “Madam, I saw a great transformation today, Dhanush and mahimay did not allow me to help them at all, they did all the distribution work on their own, and the only thing I did was a final verification and a bit of help in multiplication. They insisted to stay back after school and covered all the books, I also sat with them just to make sure they go home safe. Do you remember Dhanush was so short tempered and impatient boy in all your classes and my classes? I was so happy yet so surprised to see him do so much of work in such responsible way”.
I was dumbfounded and deeply absorbing what she was saying, and then I said, “I am at the school store room; I just came to check things. I thanked her and told her I am happy to see this and more happy that boys did it”.
I turned and picked the lock of the room and was about to leave when I noticed something on the desk. It was a note, a note to me. Words written by dusty hands had made the paper look like scrap, I picked it - “finisht miss" and their names written in Kannada "Dhanush and Mahimay"
I quickly put it into my purse. This is precious :)
As I conclude this post I am humbled by a string of thoughts…
Two boys whom I know for the past 4 years, I have seen them grow in the school
Dhanush is very aggressive, naughty, impatient, and irregular to school. While Mahimay lives in an orphanage and belongs to the northeast, so had a tough time adjusting and learning the new language. He is very attentive, responsive and good at studies.
The two of them come together.
Is it their friendship that is shaping Dhanush?
Is it the opportunity that brought out what was in Dhanush?
Is it the trust we displayed that let their confidence go up and they tried so hard to get their spellings right
Is it the extra mile the HM went to encourage and support them?
Is it their understanding of the drive that the notebooks will reach many more like them and then they were inspired to do the maths they did not want to do at all.
I don't know what combinations worked and what strings weaved this incident. Later when I gave Dhanush his share of recognition and reward by telling the whole class about his hard work and volunteering spirit, I could see in his eyes that he was feeling good about himself.