Dreams come alive in this room

Street school

As far as most rural settlers in Jaitpur remember, the 500-metre road from Kalindi Kunj to Jaitpur has been under construction for the longest time ever. Jaitpur has been under dispute between Delhi and Haryana governments, and no one has taken any step to lift its lot. Going straight down the road, (the one which says, ‘Welcome to Madangir Khadar’) one can see small fields on the left and dilapidated shops and kuchha-pukka houses of ‘unauthorised’ settlers on the right.

Along the road is a small school, quite unlike a school one would usually visualise, despite the above description of the area. The school – Pehchan – is a small room, full of children in the age group 14-20 (and sometimes a more mixed group) and a teacher.

The empty room may have looked as forlorn and wretched as the rest of the place, but the 25-odd chirpy girls who sit there add a different dimension to it. Most of these girls dropped out of school in Class 3 or 5, because of all the reasons one can associate with a girl hailing from the economically weaker sections of society.

The girls’ parents are hardly educated, either sitting idle at home or working in the informal job sectors. Affording an education and its additional expenses, is a distant dream for them. Though learning at Pehchan is free of cost, but some parents are still reluctant about sending their children, opting rather to involve their ‘girls’ in household work and pull them back from schools when they have learnt enough to be able to “write a letter”, or “read the address”, or “count on their fingers”.
Unlike its surrounding colonies, Shaheen Bagh and Kalindi Kunj, Jaitpur Extension does not have a Muslim majority. In Pehchan one can see children from different Hindu sects as well, who have come from Haryana and Rajasthan.

The greatness of Pehchan is not in understanding the plight of these children, which many NGOs do, but opening a centre of learning in this neglected and forsaken corner of the city. Girls coming to study here now speak fluent English and have the confidence to aspire and dream, unlike four years back, when most of them had not even seen a school.

Mobina Khatoon, a teary-eyed girl of 20, finished her Class 10 from Pehchan and now works as an insurance policy advisor. “I would like to finish my Class 12 soon, but for now I am content,” she says. Khatoon lost her father when she was 10. Her’s is a family of six brothers and sisters, all uneducated and without a job or any source of income.

“My brother hasn’t spoken to me for a year now, because he thinks I am doing something wrong,” she tells Metrolife. “I have seen the worst situations in my life, but the struggles I had before and the struggles I have now, are very different. Today, at least, I can voice my thoughts. I can speak for my mother and myself. Earlier, I felt I should rather be quiet because I know nothing about the world,”
Khatoon says.

Along with Khatoon there are roughly around 30 other girls in the class, with similar ‘struggles’. But they are gleeful and excited as they received their certificates on May 8 they were thankful of the encouragement and support of their well wishers, including Jamia Milia Islamia’s examination comptroller, Jamia School’s principal, the local MLA and many others.

Pehchan has associated itself with Jamia Milia Islamia School (JMI), and the girls appear for their Board exams through JMI’s centres. Under JMI School, it is not mandatory to be a Class 8 pass, but if one is successful in clearing Class 9 and 10 exams, they will get the matriculation pass certificate.

These girls had started coming to Pehchan to learn embroidery and tailoring, but Fareeda Khan, their teacher encouraged them to attend her classes. Over the years the dropout figure of these girls has declined. Many of them still continue with
tailoring to earn a livelihood as well as carry on with their classes. Some of the Class 12 pass-outs are now pursuing courses like BCA and other similar courses in
government colleges.

Pehchan is the brainchild of Iqbal Ahmed who is also the chairperson of the organisation. He also works as a full-time producer with BBC World Service.

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