Ever seen a class that brings together a 30-something mother and her 9-year-old son?…a class that includes children and adults of different ages and cultural, religious and economic backgrounds? …a class where students pen poems, learn about world events and discover themselves?
Well, such a class is run twice a week in Bhendi Bazaar, Mumbai, India, on the premises of a local school, thanks to the voluntary efforts of an old couple — Mr. and Mrs. Haider. They have been running it for a number of years now, under the aegis of Aboo Mohammad Trust.
It is difficult to imagine what would be the purpose of such a heterogeneous class. While the primary objective is to help pupils improve their spoken English, it does much more than that. It enhances their general awareness, keeps students focused on their career goals and builds their confidence, self-worth and public speaking skills. The class is fortunate to have a soft-spoken, caring and inspiring teacher in Mrs. Khan. Over nearly two decades and a regular commute from quite a distance, Mrs Khan has been enthusiastically teaching each session with a blend of current affairs, vocabulary and warmth. I have been visiting this class for a few years now and I can see a marked improvement in the group. The once-shy students, grappling with a new language, now eagerly share their knowledge on the topic of the day and jot down new words and information. This year, too, I visited the students, along with my family, in August. Whenever we visit, Mrs. Khan asks us to speak to her students. We had a good interaction with the students. They asked intelligent questions, such as the difference between education systems in India and Switzerland. This revealed their curiosity to know the world. I also invited them to speak and share something about themselves. One by one, they spoke about their studies, hobbies, their family and career goals. We were also joined by Mr. Zubair Azmi, who is another great support in this effort. Mr Azmi is the Director of Urdu Markaz (Urdu Centre), a Bhendi Bazaar-based cultural centre dedicated to the promotion and appreciation of Urdu literature. He has graciously made available his organization’s space for the class. He is closely involved, knows the students and motivates them to hone their talent. Based on his encouragement, some students demonstrated their talent before us. We were impressed to hear a poem written by one of the students. The title of her poem was “Beti” (‘Daughter’) in which she beautifully captured the sentiments of a girl child and the discrimination she faces. While all this interaction took place, Mr. Haider sat behind smiling. Behind the smile was certainly the satisfaction of seeing the fruits of his dedicated hard work.
I must add that the activities of Aboo Mohammed Trust are not run with any donor’s support. Despite health and age not being on his side, Mr. Haider continues to serve the community. Seeing his sincerity and dedication, he is joined by several community volunteers, including doctors and teachers. Health camps are organized for the poor, nursing classes are organized for young women, in addition to the regular language classes. He makes an attempt to inform people about government services and helps them access the services. He does whatever he can to serve people in his area with the help of his wife and several community volunteers. I wish him health and a long life. His ideas and projects are doing a yeoman’s service for the community. I asked Mrs. Khan how she joined this effort. She said, “I came to know about Haider saheb’s work from a newspaper and phoned him to inquire how I could help. It has been over 17 years that I have been teaching here… it has changed my life….these are the golden years of my life.” Mrs. Khan is very humble to say this when in fact she has touched so many lives. What a great example of dedicated community work! This voluntary effort may not be slotted under the category of `good practice` in the journals of the development sector, nor be presented at conferences, but this effort is certainly a great practice. May God bless all those who are a part of it.