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In a Delhi slum, the kids and the geeks point the mouse at a new future

In a Delhi slum, the kids and the geeks point the mouse at a new future
In a Delhi slum, the kids and the geeks point the mouse at a new future
It’s about righting the wrongs, in their own little way. While the parents tramp the streets of Delhi, these children have initiated something which could eventually—many years from now—get them out of a wretched life in the slums. On the face of it, the leap to "cyberspace" may look too huge a bridge to cross, but the children of the Sant Ravidas basti in Delhi’s Vikaspuri are learning faster than many others that computers are not merely about "video games".

For now, the efforts of the 80-odd kids at Kislay, a CRY-supported project, are restricted to learning how to shut down the monitor, and moving the mouse around the screen. Before trawling the web, it has to be English first. And helping them learn more about vowels and consonants is a group of software developers who have been taking three-hour classes every Saturday and Sunday since last May. As Devender Khari, self-confessed computer geek at Cadence Design Systems, Delhi, says: "A good foundation in English is a must before we expect the children to go on to computers. We all know the level of English in government schools in our country." Finding like-minded volunteers was never a problem. Buoyed by the efforts of Friends of CRY, Devender found many in Cadence itself. There are a total of 15 volunteers now, most of them from macs (Make a Child Smile), an initiative by Cadence employees for community development.

To begin with, given the demand and aspiration levels in the slums, Devender and his friends decided to take only 80 students, ranging from Class II to XII, and some school dropouts. They were divided into three groups—children who didn’t know anything about alphabets, those who attend local schools but don’t have English as a subject, and children studying in classes IX and XII (due for the board exams, most can barely construct a sentence in English). Each group has a separate curriculum—while Group A is into memorising the alphabets, there are spelling tests and word formation tests for the 22 students in Group B.

One of the main problems is that most of the kids are already helping their parents with daily jobs and can hardly devote time for studies. Some of the girl students also help out their mothers by doubling up as maids in the nearby flats. But given the keen interest among both the parents and children, things are changing. "When we started, there were only about 30 children. Today, even with 15 of us we are falling short," says one of the volunteers. In fact, plans are afoot to start the next phase of admissions.

Says Ruchika Chinda, also from Cadence: "Our efforts go beyond our company or your MD. It’s more about a sense of personal satisfaction. To see that spark on a child’s face, and to think that I am instrumental in bringing a change, however minimal, in that family, goes much beyond everything else. And then, you too are always learning many things." Agrees Ramender, the Kislay coordinator: "All of us were fortunate to have had something more than these children at their age. Now it’s our turn to give them back something...a token of our gratitude to society."

Just six months into the classes and the volunteers realised English is a particularly difficult subject for a majority of the students. Says Suresh Jaiswal, another Cadence computer professional: "Most government schools teach a very basic level of English till Class VI, and in four years, the students are expected to master the language and do well in their board exams. That’s preposterous, to say the least."

But why computers? "Because of the aspiration levels of the parents. Their enthusiasm is infectious," says Devender. He adds: "We believe that whatever we do, it shouldn’t be a one-time effort. It’s all about a vision...empowering these children to become self-sufficient one day. We are also identifying some bright students who can carry on our work." And the number of children queuing up at Kislay, drawn by the "computer classes", has been very encouraging. "Even if some of these children are able to realise the importance of education, they’d be so much better placed in their classes to fight the prejudices of teachers and fellow children. That would have justified our presence among them today," says Devender. To volunteer your services/more information, contact Kavita Ayyagari, Child Relief and You, DDA Slums Wing, Kotla Mubarakpur, New Delhi-110003; Ph: 011-24694790/3159/3137

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