A school run by JNUites for children of construction workers on the campus gives the students a taste for learning

“Good afternoon, Sir”. The 50-odd children sitting in a small room at Jawaharlal Nehru University cried out in unison as the teacher walked in.

The children are mostly wards of the construction workers employed at the campus. They have never been to a playschool and some are even school dropouts, yet they can speak English and can do their basic arithmetic correctly, all thanks to the efforts of a bunch of students and professors at the university, who take time out from their daily engagements to work for the development of underprivileged children.

‘Unnoticed’ is a group of JNU students and ex-students who took this initiative to educate the children of the construction workers within the university campus. “Studying in this prestigious and beautiful university and at the same time seeing a certain section of children denied the basic right of education was one such thing that made us pause and take notice, so we came together to work in this direction,” says Maria Centrone, an ex-student and volunteer at Unnoticed. Though they have been teaching the children for over five years, it’s now that it has taken a proper shape.

Previously, the International Students Union office was used for taking the classes. But now with the help from the administration, the children have a room of their own. A small but bright room near Teflas cafeteria which was used for issuing bus passes now serves as a classroom.

Dressed invariably in jeans, shirts and frocks, the little children have an apparent eagerness to know more. “On Tuesday, bhaiya teaches us Maths; Wednesday we have Hindi classes; and the rest of the days, we have classes for other subjects like English and arts. We have learnt a lot from here,” said Lakshmi, a 10-year-old girl. Lakshmi is in the fourth standard but still grappling with basics due to lack of prior education.

All round development and wider exposure is the motive of the group. They organise workshops for photography, art and craft, dance and yoga on the weekends. “You don’t know how to click pictures? I can teach you how to click and delete pictures,” Rajan, an eight-year-old boy pompously flaunts his photography skills. “We wanted our children to be the agents and not the subject in the pictures,” says Maria. They have successfully organised two photo exhibitions in the campus.

A vaccination drive was also organised for the kids. “Basic health facilities are not accessible to these children. Most of them had never been vaccinated. Dr Priyadarshini has been regularly helping us in this endeavour while Dr. Rewa recently volunteered for organising a dental check-up camp,” adds Sudeep, a volunteer at Unnoticed.

“Unnoticed is doing a great job in the campus and they have a lot of impact,” says Sucharita Sen, professor at Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU, who is been associated with the group for a couple of years now.

The group also works for funding of their stationary and school uniforms. Through maintaining stalls at the university’s International Food Festival, organising photo exhibitions and by selling calendars, the students have been generating funds. Some students also contribute from their pockets in this cause. Professor Sen tells us how her colleagues pay double the amount for a calendar to help in funding.

“They are not just educating the young children but empowering them. Children have begun to love schools and now they understand what their basic rights are,” adds Professor Sen.

Around 110-120 children live in the construction worker’s settlement right in the heart of the campus; out of them roughly 70 go to the school. “It was a tough job convincing the parents to send their children to school as they thought of it as another liability,” says Maria who had played a major role in persuading the families to send their children to school.

Sudeep says that some children did not want to come for the classes because they were comparatively older than other students and hardly had any elementary education. “They were shy to attend classes with their own younger brothers and sisters.”

While many children have spent most of their life in the campus, others come and go as their parents change their work place. The construction workers in JNU work on contractual basis. Once the construction is finished in the campus, they move to another site — causing their association with Unnoticed a break. The concern for future education for these children looms large in the minds of the volunteers who have made special connection with their fellow students.

“We try to make most of our time with them. Even if they stay with us for a span of merely two-three years, we make it a point to inculcate in them the educational values empowering them to always move ahead in life,” says Sudeep.