I first heard Ravi Gulati, founder of Manzil (an NGO for educating underprivileged children), speak at Delhi School of Economics. His piercing eyes captured me. Although other speakers had Powerpoints, he simply spoke.
And his words hit home. He talked about how he explained to the villagers of Ghad, at the foothills of Dehradun, who had studied only to Class IV, that after Class XII he had studied further, Class XII etc for college years and then for IIM A.
They were amazed. What did you study for such a long time? He had no answer.
Perhaps that’s why Ravi founded Manzil in 1997. At that time, in 2005, over 80 children would come to his house in Khan Market, to learn. I want to help too, I told him. Come over, he said.
When I went over one weekend to Manzil, the first thing that struck me after I climbed the stairs was a beautiful mural of a tree. There was peace in the air. It was very organized. They put up a notice that I would teach English on weekends. About ten children signed up for my class.
I taught them grammar. They were bright and hungry to learn. They were overjoyed when they got good marks on a test I gave. We want help with spoken English, they said. We would practice shopping expeditions on the terrace.
I looked out for them, and helped them later too. One boy, Manoj, began making candles. I got him a stall at a b-school Diwali mela. Another child was painfully shy, because he had studied in a Hindi medium and now had shifted to an English medium school. Break up the letters, I told him. Then you’ll be able to pronounce them easier. His reading improved, and so did the volume at which he read.
Ravi would come and go. I think he had a family member who was differently abled, perhaps that’s why he set up Manzil, to help children like her.
Although I gave tuitions later on to other children, they were never as satisfying as the ones I gave at Manzil. I felt as if I was making a bigger difference there. The children would laugh at my Hindi, and correct me. So I learnt while teaching too.
I even ended up teaching Economics in Hindi! Whatever the children needed. Some, like Anish, even came back and helped run Manzil and teach other children. They danced, acted, made films, learnt their way around a computer too.
It is a happy place.