16 years old, Babar Ali, why does he have to take upon himself what is a responsibility of State
- From: Romanise <joshidm@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Mon, 12 Oct 2009 05:05:44 -0700 (PDT)
A Communist ruled state at that.
Around the world millions of children are not getting a proper
education because their families are too poor to afford to send them
to school. In India, one schoolboy is trying change that. In the first
report in the BBC's Hunger to Learn series, Damian Grammaticas meets
Babar Ali, whose remarkable education project is transforming the
lives of hundreds of poor children.
At 16 years old, Babar Ali must be the youngest headmaster in the
world. He's a teenager who is in charge of teaching hundreds of
students in his family's backyard, where he runs classes for poor
children from his village.
The story of this young man from Murshidabad in West Bengal is a
remarkable tale of the desire to learn amid the direst poverty.
Babar Ali's day starts early. He wakes, pitches-in with the household
chores, then jumps on an auto-rickshaw which takes him part of the
10km (six mile) ride to the Raj Govinda school. The last couple of
kilometres he has to walk.
The school is the best in this part of West Bengal. There are hundreds
of students, boys and girls. The classrooms are neat, if bare. But
there are desks, chairs, a blackboard, and the teachers are all
dedicated and well-qualified.
As the class 12 roll-call is taken, Babar Ali is seated in the middle
in the front row. He's a tall, slim, gangly teenager, studious and
smart in his blue and white uniform. He takes his notes carefully. He
is the model student.
Babar Ali is the first member of his family ever to get a proper
"It's not easy for me to come to school because I live so far away,"
he says, "but the teachers are good and I love learning. And my
parents believe I must get the best education possible that's why I am
Raj Govinda school is government-run so it is free, all Babar Ali has
to pay for is his uniform, his books and the rickshaw ride to get
there. But still that means his family has to find around 1,800 rupees
a year ($40, £25) to send him to school. In this part of West Bengal
that is a lot of money. Many poor families simply can't afford to send
their children to school, even when it is free.
Chumki Hajra is one who has never been to school. She is 14 years old
and lives in a tiny shack with her grandmother. Their home is simple A-
frame supporting a thatched roof next to the rice paddies and coconut
palms at the edge of the village. Inside the hut there is just room
for a bed and a few possessions.
Every morning, instead of going to school, she scrubs the dishes and
cleans the homes of her neighbours. She's done this ever since she was
five. For her work she earns just 200 rupees a month ($5, £3). It's
not much, but it's money her family desperately needs. And it means
that she has to work as a servant everyday in the village.
"My father is handicapped and can't work," Chumki tells me as she
scrubs a pot. "We need the money. If I don't work, we can't survive as
a family. So I have no choice but to do this job."
But Chumki is now getting an education, thanks to Babar Ali. The 16-
year-old has made it his mission to help Chumki and hundreds of other
poor children in his village. The minute his lessons are over at Raj
Govinda school, Babar Ali doesn't stop to play, he heads off to share
what he's learnt with other children from his village.
At four o'clock every afternoon after Babar Ali gets back to his
family home a bell summons children to his house. They flood through
the gate into the yard behind his house, where Babar Ali now acts as
headmaster of his own, unofficial school.
Lined up in his back yard the children sing the national anthem.
Standing on a podium, Babar Ali lectures them about discipline, then
Babar Ali gives lessons just the way he has heard them from his
teachers. Some children are seated in the mud, others on rickety
benches under a rough, homemade shelter. The family chickens scratch
around nearby. In every corner of the yard are groups of children
Babar Ali was just nine when he began teaching a few friends as a
game. They were all eager to know what he learnt in school every
morning and he liked playing at being their teacher.
Now his afternoon school has 800 students, all from poor families, all
taught for free. Most of the girls come here after working, like
Chumki, as domestic helps in the village, and the boys after they have
finished their day's work labouring in the fields.
"In the beginning I was just play-acting, teaching my friends," Babar
Ali says, "but then I realised these children will never learn to read
and write if they don't have proper lessons. It's my duty to educate
them, to help our country build a better future."
Including Babar Ali there are now 10 teachers at the school, all, like
him are students at school or college, who give their time
voluntarily. Babar Ali doesn't charge for anything, even books and
food are given free, funded by donations. It means even the poorest
can come here.
"Our area is economically deprived," he says. "Without this school
many kids wouldn't get an education, they'd never even be literate."
Seated on a rough bench squeezed in with about a dozen other girls,
Chumki Hajra is busy scribbling notes.
Her dedication to learning is incredible to see. Every day she works
in homes in the village from six in the morning until half past two in
the afternoon, then she heads to Babar Ali's school. At seven every
evening she heads back to do more cleaning work.
Chumki's dream is to one day become a nurse, and Babar Ali's classes
might just make it possible.
The school has been recognized by the local authorities, it has helped
increase literacy rates in the area, and Babar Ali has won awards for
The youngest children are just four or five, and they are all squeezed
in to a tiny veranda. There are just a couple of bare electric bulbs
to give light as lessons stretch into the evening, and only if there
And then the monsoon rain begins. Huge big drops fall as the children
scurry for cover, slipping in the mud. They crowd under a piece of
plastic sheeting. Babar Ali shouts an order. Lessons are cancelled for
the afternoon otherwise everyone will be soaked. Having no classrooms
means lessons are at the mercy of the elements.
The children climb onto the porch of a nearby shop as the rain pours
down. Then they hurry home through the downpour. Tomorrow they'll be
back though. Eight hundred poor children, unable to afford an
education, but hungry for anything they can learn at Babar Ali's
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