As the Jagriti Yatra reaches Nalanda, once known to be the global knowledge economy of the world, we found someone whose passionate yearning for learning left us at awe. Twenty-five-year-old Om Prakash Ram’s story is one of relentless perseverance to go against all odds to get an education.
Hailing from Panagarh of Bardawan district, Om was born into a humble household; his father was an iron cutter (cutting parts of old vehicles) and mother made and sold ‘bidis‘. The family’s income wasn’t more than a Rs 100 per day.
Om resided in Chakai village of Jamui district in Bihar with his mother and his six siblings, while his father struggled in West Bengal.
The turning point
The turning point in Om’s life came while he was still eight. While playing football, he injured himself severely, but shrugged it off as a minor incident.
The wound went unattended for almost a month and the flesh started to rot. The medical expenses were paid for by selling all the household utensils, causing the family to immerse itself in debt.
Doctors in Bihar told the family that they might have to amputate his leg. Om was then taken to Panagarh to seek treatment.
“My wound became my turning point, otherwise I’d always be stuck in the backward areas of Bihar,” he explains.
He recalls the humiliation of having to pick up cow dung to make gobar gas for cooking as his family was the only one in Panagarh to have no cooking gas.
A new chapter
After making the switch, he joined school in Class V. Om recalls
“Mera background itna achi nahin tha. Mujhe prarthana nahi aati this toh log puchte the ‘jungli ho kya’.” (My background was poor. I didn’t even know any prayer. My headmaster and teachers called me a ‘jungli’, a barbarian.)
Fitting in proved to be difficult. Since he had no one to guide him, Om’s marks suffered.
But he had the will to excel. He pushed through all the taunts from his classmates and worked hard. However, his dreams came to a screeching halt when his father said he can afford to pay for his education only till Class X. He was nearing 60 and could no longer do the hard physical labour he was used to.
“The world used to question my family as to how will they make their children study, since they’re poor,” Om says.
His handicap wasn’t just the lack of support or guidance, but also the lack of a basic toilet or electricity in his house till he completed his Masters.
But his dedication was earnest. Om finished his tenth in 2004 and joined a mechanic shop, receiving a daily wage of Rs 10 until his board results came out.
He scored 59 per cent, missing ”first class’ just by one per cent. But he was the first person in his family to have ever passed Class X exams.
It was indeed a proud moment, but for Om the road had ended.
With a will, there’s a way
Noticing Om’s sadness about not being able to continue his education, his father said he could study further and wrote to the gram panchayat head and the headmaster for a fee waiver.
To support his education further, Om started taking tuition for close to seven hours everyday between 2006 and 2011. He made close to Rs 4,000, teaching kids starting from Class I to even those doing their masters.
Today, Om has completed his MA in Hindi and a year-long course in German from Bardawan University. He also has a B.Ed from Kurukshetra University.
To earn more money and to continue his education, Om did other odd jobs and his mother took out a loan of Rs 80,000 too.
Back to square one
But, Om landed in the same position as before. He could not find a teaching position in any school, as it required clout more than merit.
He was running out of money as well. But Om’s grit helped him surpass rejection. He recalls what his parents said, that finances are a pain only for a few days, but he should not deviate from his aim.
He searched for a job in schools in Kolkata, with no luck until he came by Yuva Parivartan Sanstha, an NGO, in April 2014.
But wishing to earn more, he then joined Seekho in Bihar, an NGO which merged with Project Potential.
Om suddenly found purpose. Working with Seekho for the past one-and-a-half years, he has been visiting various villages to build model villages, help the community create an open learning centre, and monitors panchayats for betterment of their health, hygiene, livelihood, education and health.
Today, Om has touched the lives of more than 1,300 children directly, while covering as many as 12 villages and is able to contribute to his family, who had put his education before their own comforts.
“My mind was like a fish without water, but now I think I’ve got my water”, he says.
Om wants to convert one of his houses in Bihar into a school which not just focusses on education, but also explores areas of skill development and music for the overall well-being and growth of a child.
He says that more than anything, his purpose in life is to provide guidance to children, something which he himself never got to experience while growing up.