81-year-old Vimla Kaul has not stopped working since she retired as a government school teacher 20 years ago. She educates under-privileged children in Delhi. All the children are from around the area – their parents mostly work as maids or drivers, servicing the middle class housing colony across the road. Students are taught English, Science, Math and Environment. It also owns one computer and offers extra-curricular activities like yoga, dance and drill.
“Many government schools do children a disservice. They don’t teach them properly, and then follow a no-detention policy. What you are left with are teenagers who can’t construct a basic sentence in either English or Hindi,” Mrs. Kaul told BBC. “We don’t turn anyone away, but we hold an entrance test to evaluate the standard of the child, and if they perform poorly at class examinations we hold them back. The main thing is to teach them properly,” she added.
Her own school building is a tiny four-room tenement, of the kind generally used to provide cheap, basic accommodation to labourers. The school is called Guldasta and was established in 1993 by Mrs. Kaul and her husband HM Kaul, who died in 2009. “My husband and I had both just retired. We decided to do something charitable, but were not quite sure what,” stated Mrs. Kaul. That question was answered during a visit to the village of Madanpur Khadar, an hour away from Delhi.
As the couple sat at the village centre with some elders, discussing their problems, they were continually distracted by the half-naked, boisterous children running around. “We had brought biscuits for them as part of a Rotary Club drive. But one woman told me, ‘giving them to eat is all very well, but what you should do is teach them how to get their own food.’ That stuck with me,” said Mrs. Kaul. And that was when the idea for a school was born.