“It is like my dream coming true, I always wanted to study further, but could not do that after 8th class. My family arranged my marriage at an early age and then everything ended. Now, I see myself in my daughter,” said 38-year-old Sunita, a daily wage worker from Jewar in Gautam Buddha Nagar district, who lined up on Sunday to complete admission formalities for her daughter Payal in Atal Residential School, Bulandshahr.
Built on around 12 acres of land in Kondu village of Sikandrabad tehsil, it is one of the 18 Atal Residential Schools of the state, built to provide education to the children of registered construction workers, those who lost their parents to Covid, or those eligible under the Mukhyamantri Bal Sewa Yojna (General) — a scheme to provide assistance to children who lost their either one or both parents.
The school, which is run by the Building and Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, Labour Department, UP Government, will start from Monday with a total strength of 160 students in two zones — Meerut and Moradabad. Though the school built in Bulandshahr is for Meerut zone, it will accommodate students of Moradabad zone also because the school building there is still under construction.
On Sunday, hundreds of parents came to the schools with packed bags to drop their children. Payal held on to her mother Sunita’s hand as she was talking to the teachers and filling up forms. “Good education is very expensive for people like me. A teacher of the government school where Payal studies, had told about this school. At first, I was very sceptical about sending my daughter this far. But when I came here and saw it, I liked it. The facilities here are very good,” said Sunita, who also works as an agricultural labourer during the season.
“We barely manage to earn Rs 300 to 350 a day. With this only household expenses can be met… Only the deserving person should get the benefit. Thousands of workers are waiting to provide good education to their children. I just want my daughter to not become like me… Only my heart knows how I am leaving her here, in the hope that she will make our family proud,” she added.
Asked about how she feels in the school, Payal, wearing a pink long sleeve T-shirt and blue jeans, said that she wants to learn English. “In the government school, they mostly teach Hindi. I am interested in English and want to learn it,” said the girl smiling, who got admission in Class 6.
Satish Kumar, a resident of Mohammadpur Shakist Village of Meerut, wept as he said goodbye to his daughter Neha. A labourer, who has enrolled in the MGNREGA scheme, Kumar always wanted to provide good education to his children. He proudly says that nobody in the school can compete with his daughter in English.
“It hurts a lot to leave a daughter at such a young age. But there is satisfaction that she will get a good education here. I earn Rs 220 a day wage and cannot send my children to a good school…,” said Kumar.
Another Meerut resident, Shama told her son Ayan that he would be living in the hostel. She asked him to not pick fights, obey the teacher and not to get upset easily. When Ayan started crying, his mother wiped his tears and said that she would talk to him every evening.
As parents were asked to leave, Shama took out her phone and clicked a picture of her son. Later, as he disappeared from sight, she started crying.
“In my village almost all the families are labourers. Hardly anyone has been able to study after Class 12… Some people from the village came together and provided tuition classes to the children. My son was also one of them. Today he has reached here after passing the exam. The people of the entire village welcomed him and encouraged him. I was not ready for him to come this far. Mine is a mother’s heart. But people explained that if he studies, his life will improve,” said the woman, who works as an agriculture labourer and construction worker.
School Principal Amar Kaur said that initially co-curricular activities will be conducted for the children so that they can settle down. “It is obvious that the children must have been feeling homesick. They do not know anyone here. Therefore, instead of starting studies directly, we will do some light activities, so that the children get to know each other and the teachers. Let them become friends. Then we will start regular studies,” said Kaur.
“This is a very unique initiative. These schools have been built on the lines of Navodaya Vidyalaya. Our aim is that the children of marginalised sections get the best education, so that they reach higher positions in future,” she added.