An 'accidental' teacher's efforts to inspire children of Delhi slums

Photo by Rahul R Pattom

There is an old adage saying that great teachers present themselves when situation demands – or, inversely, the circumstances could throw up excellent teachers. Such is the tale of Satyendrapal Sakiya, 26, who is opening up the world of learning to the indigent children of Delhi slums. 

So, where are the classes? Sakiya would point to a spot beneath an under-construction flyover in East Delhi’s Mayur Vihar. 

From UP to Delhi

Sakia came to Delhi after completing his Class 12 in 2012. He came with his parents to live near his uncle in Delhi. The family set up a shanty on the banks of the Yamuna, right next to his uncle’s. His father was differently abled. Sakia wanted to study further but the family was in abject poverty and he could not afford to spend time studying. He worked on the fields and saved some money. Sakia travelled to Nagpur in Maharashtra and earned a diploma in Buddhism and Ambedkar’s philosophy. The diploma did not earn him a job and he returned to Delhi. He worked in a call centre for a while. 

He could not adjust to the call centre life and decided to get back to the field. One day, as he was selling his produce, some chilli, at the Yamuna Khadar market, when he met his friend Rakesh Moria. The latter asked Sakia if he could take tuition for his son who was good at studies and a couple of his friends. Sakia felt he had found his true calling. He was all set to don the robe of a teacher, and a good one at that. 

A place to teach

Now, he wanted to find a place for tuitions. He woke up all night and thought about it. At 5 am, the students came for tuition and he had no place yet. He looked around the house and thought of Gautama Buddha, of whom he had learned of in his Diploma classes. In no time, a tree with a fairly huge canopy in the vicinity became the ‘class.’ 

 First class

Sakia remembers that the first class was on a cold December dawn of 2015. He started teaching all subjects to students up to Class 8. The ‘open school’ strength was rapidly rising and in some time, there were 80 students. There was no specified fee and anyone could give anything – as per their capability. Sakia said no one should be unable to attend classes for want of money. There are parents who pay between Rs.50 to 250. There is no audit of who paid fees and vice-versa. 

Bridge spot

In the rainy season, the classes took a hit as the places got flooded. Sakia tried hard to find a place that would keep the students dry. The land was undulating and some earth had to be carted in to make it flat. The bridge work contractor, who saw the efforts, offered to concrete the floor where students could sit. Some others contributed with boards, tables and benches. The classes began once again. 

More learning 

In the midst of all this, Sakia went to Agra and joined the BSc Mathematics course (correspondence) in the Dr B.R. Ambedkar University in 2016. He is getting ready to take the final year exam when the university announces it after COVID. He intends to pursue a postgraduate degree in Education.  

Pandemic outbreak

The classes had to be stopped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. He again started work on the farm as the going got difficult. The schools in Delhi started classes online but the Sakiya’s students did not have the luxury of internet or smartphone. On June 9, he restarted the classes. 

Some volunteer organisations provided masks and sanitizers to the students. No fee was taken from any student during the lockdown period. 

On Sundays, there are no subject classes. Films are shown on the projectors provided by voluntary organisations and here are motivation sessions. Every year, Republic Day is celebrated. One day, the parents got together and organised a small trip for the students. This is when most students even saw the Qutub Minar for the first time. 

Sakiya’s mission

Sakiya thinks his humble mission is to enable and inspire the students to think beyond their lives in the slum. He firmly believes some of these children will make it to the top universities of this country. And, Sakia is with them to give wings to their dreams.

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