In the fourth story of #GoBarefootRealHeroes we are sharing the story of Antara Sarkar
How it began:
I have been volunteering on and off since 2006, when I was studying in BITS Pilani. It was in 2016, when I
first walked into a government primary school in the outskirts of Delhi. My neighbours told me they needed
someone to teach English for an hour, a week, and I volunteered. Little did I know ,what a huge impact this
one decision would have on my life.
The kids and I bonded almost immediately. They became the highlight of my week, and I started organizing
many more activities, classes, events, etc at the school. And that’s how my journey began.
A few months later, around March 2017, the Class 5 batch graduated from this school. However, instead of
joining secondary schools, 80% dropped out. This was the norm, and I wanted to change that. Over the next 4 months, I visited the homes of the dropout kids, over and over again. Each case was different
and yet there was one common thread – the kids wanted to go to school. One family wouldn’t let their 12-13
years old daughter go because she cooked the food that the family sold on carts. Other sweet little boy was
pulled out of school by his father and made to sell eggs by the roadside. Another little girl was stuck at home
because no one in her family of 8 members was interested in getting her educated. There were a dozen or so such cases.
I had no experience on how to deal with this. It was the first time I was walking into “homes” where a family
of 7 lived in a room that was the size of my kitchen or where at 8 in the morning, fathers were lying
intoxicated. There were moments were I felt uncomfortable, unsure of myself. However, I knew that the only
way for my kids to lead a better, safer life would be to get them educated. So I showed up at their door steps.
Days turned into weeks, weeks into months, but every dropout child finally enrolled into school. Three years
later, they are all still in school.
Sunday Class: A free, educational, informal weekend school for my (underprivileged) kids
By March 2018, my second batch of Class 5 was to graduate from the government school I was volunteering
at. I had spent the year convincing the kids to continue their education in secondary schools. It worked. The
dropout rate plummeted. However, since they were leaving this school, it meant that I would no longer be
able to teach them. To make a real difference, I knew I had to teach them long term. So without much
planning, I asked if they would come on Sundays. They said yes! We found a room in the area. My husband,
Anurup Mitra, joined me in teaching the kids.
And that’s how Sunday Class started.
I didn’t think it would run for more than a few weeks. Sunday Class is free, plus we don’t hand out report
cards and certificates, so why would kids come? Well, I’m happy to say I was wrong. We now complete 2
years. In fact, many of the previously dropped-out kids are part of Sunday Class. And I’m happy to say that
most of our kids have near perfect attendance.
The goal of Sunday Class is to expose the kids to a whole variety of new things – to show them that there are a thousand different things that they can do. We believe in education that is hands on and useful in their present and future lives. We aren’t an organization. It’s just Anurup and I on the ground, but thanks to our friends, we always get the right support at the right time!
In these two years, my kids have grown from holding a computer in their hands for the first time ever to now learning Python programming. We use Lego, ice-cream sticks, straws and just about anything to teach them
Science & Engineering. We bought paper microscopes from Stanford University. Our kids made their own
slides and saw the microscopic world. We had a robotics session, where they put motors, wires and batteries
together to make robot bugs. Like fashion designers, my kid have designed and painted their own t-shirts.
We have also had kickboxing and yoga sessions. Our biggest project was in which the kids wrote their own
stories, used Lego to build sets, learnt how to do budgeting, did editing and dubbing on the computers, and
finally made their own short movies! In Mathematics, Anurup focuses on real-life applications. In English, I
talk to them about different countries, inspirational people, incredible facts about India, and a whole range of different topics. In fact, when I had just began volunteering, I had to teach them the very basics of English,
eg. simple words like eat, walk, study. Now, most Sunday Classes are conducted in English, without the need
to translate into Hindi! The kids also do art & craft, we celebrate festivals together, we go on outings, and
currently they are preparing for a Talent Show!
Perhaps the most important aspect of Sunday Class is the inter-personal relationship we have with our 20
kids. They know this is a safe, non-judgmental place. We have open discussions of Child Sexual Abuse, the
LGBTQ community, social problems like the obsession with fair skin in India. Furthermore, the kids trust us
with their personal issues – talking to us about how to handle crushes, how to control their emotions, what to
do after an argument with a friend, etc. The kids say that Anurup & I are a mix of everything – their teacher,
friend, parent, bhaiya/didi and bodyguards. I couldn’t agree more!
Every week the kids show us how much they love us in Sunday Class. I hope that they grow up to lead lives
where they are all happy, comfortable and safe, and doing what they love. And that they will forever be
honest, joyful and good human beings, who spread positivity and love where ever they go.
We,at Gobarefoot hope that people get inspired from Antara Sarkar’s story
and come forward to help the society just like her.