India has close to 1.5 billion people, with a great number of them being children who do not have access to quality education. There are many reasons for this, and efforts to provide access to education exist, but are lacking. Enter the Free School Under the Bridge.
Founded by Rajesh Kumar in 2006, this free school under a train bridge provides education to 300 children in Delhi. There are two shifts at this open-air school: one from 9 AM to 11 AM for boys, and one from 2 PM to 4:30 PM for girls. Currently, there are seven teachers volunteering their time to teach children between 4-14 years old.
The adult literacy rate in India is somewhere around 65% currently, indicating there are still many who don’t have the basics to interact with, and succeed, in modern society. Thankfully, the Free School Under the Bridge is a sign of positive developments being undertaken by members of the community in places like Delhi.
The school is entirely run by volunteers and donations. The rent is free, and while it can be a bit noisy at times when a train is passing over the school, it’s still providing valuable education to some of the most underprivileged children in Delhi.
Different From Other Schools
Besides being under a bridge, the school has five blackboards fixed to a colorfully-painted wall under the bridge. Students bring notebooks and sit on the carpet-covered ground. There are bathrooms as well, one for boys and one for girls. Children are even taught basic hygiene, which is especially important today more than ever in a country that lacks access to proper sanitation in many places.
The school also avoids getting involved with NGOs. Rajesh remarks that some NGOs contacted him and attempted to become associated with the school. However, he did not allow it given they appeared suspicious and didn’t seem to actually care about the children. Since they were just trying to capitalize and profit off of a genuine project helping children, he declined all of their offers.
Thanks to the kindness of nearby shopkeepers, the school has drinking water and other essential supplies that help it keep going.
Why The Free School Under the Bridge Was Started
The Free School Under the Bridge was started to address an issue the founder of the school faced when he was young. His family didn’t have much money, which made it impossible for him to get his BSc degree. From his own experience, he knows just have vital education is for children.
Besides running the free school, he also has a small grocery store located nearby. Some of the proceeds to toward supporting the school. There is also the kindness of strangers that helps out the school. There will occasionally be people handing out biscuits, fruit, water, and other foods.
There’s more to be had at this free school in Delhi than learning. Some children even celebrate their birthdays here, cutting cakes and having fun together under the bridge. It’s experiences like this that help them feel included in society regardless of what their background is.
Unfortunately, the school is temporarily closed due to restrictions related to COVID-19. However, given the extraordinary benefit to children in the community, hopefully it will re-open soon.
This is a wonderful idea to provide education to those less fortunate in a location that wasn’t being used for anything. With the success of this school, which has been operating since 2006, hopefully others will pop up elsewhere.