Students turn teachers for migrants' children on university campus lawns

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For 24-year-old Ishita Choudhary, persuading her parents to let her leave home was the most challenging task she faced. The rest of it, which included teaching a motley group of among 40 youngsters on the lawns of Panjab University’s campus, was simpler, she said.

Choudhary is among a handful of centre for social work students, who have been teaching the children of migrant workers living in campus since May 24. The idea came from their teacher, Gaurav Gaur, and the initiative is called Kalam, Kitab aur Khwahishien (which translates to pen, book and dreams).

Over 280 workers, who hail from Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and others, have been living in makeshift accommodations inside the campus to construct a multi-purpose auditorium, a girls hostel and the second floor of the Centre for Public Health.

Unlike several migrants who returned home after the lockdown was imposed on March 25, this group stayed put.

Many of their children, who are aged between 3 and 16 year, are school drop-outs; some attended classes at a government school in sector 25, which was shut down due to the lockdown. Though online classes were held for senior students of Chandigarh’s government schools from April 21, the construction workers’ children had no access to internet, and thus, no school.

Besides Choudhury, Shubham Singh, Narendra Singh, Jaskirat Kaur Saini, Noyonika Roy and Kavneet Singh have been teaching the students in different parts of the campus, spread across sectors 14 and 25. Initially, the classes were for a couple of hours in the morning; now they hold four-hour long classes, from 8am to noon.

“I had never thought that I could teach anyone but now my self-perception has changed,” said Choudhury, who taught who taught English and Hindi.

The shade of an expansive banyan tree and empty cement bags make up for the absence of classrooms and chairs. All children have handkerchiefs tied over their faces.

“At this time no one will allow us to use a classroom,” said Choudhary, who favours the trees outside the legal studies institute in the main campus.

“In the morning their parents wait for us to come and then leave for work. Even you cannot be late for class, otherwise the children demand an apology,” Shubham Singh, 24, said.

The social work students are also trying to teach the youngsters about Covid-19; the children have a host of queries about the pandemic that has affected millions worldwide, starting with what the virus looks likeand why do they need to wash their hands repeatedly. Gaur, an assistant professor at the centre for social work, said that volunteer work is exactly what the course is about.

“I hope they will bring a change in the future of all these children.”

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