An open-air school set up by the Namdhari sect of Sikhism led by spiritual head Thakur Dalip Singh in a street of Jalandhar city in Punjab, which is acclaimed for providing free quality education to slum children, is now providing them coaching to empower them amidst the uncertainty posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The sect, known for a distinct white dress code and turbans, has been imparting education to the underprivileged children at their doorsteps for the past several years across the state through its volunteers.
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A sect-inspired education initiative, which initially started in Ludhiana city in 2015, has now marked its presence in major cities like Amritsar and Patiala and even in small-town Kalanaur in Gurdaspur district.
The sect believes that by empowering the children through education, they could push them out from the vicious cycle of poverty.
Tracing its reformative journey, a sect spokesperson told IANS on Friday that earlier volunteers were dedicatedly teaching one to four children at a time in their shanties, giving them the much-needed individual support and guidance, at least thrice in a week.
Responding to the response, a non-formal education center was opened in Ludhiana where a group of children employed at scrap yards and tea shops, involved in petty jobs like roadside shoe shining and rag-picking, and also employed as domestic help were taught the basics of languages near their makeshift tents.
“We brought them together at one place i.e. a class,” spiritual head Thakur Dalip Singh told IANS.
The students, braving the extreme weather, sat on rugs and were eager to attend the school, he said.
The classes were held in open-street corners in the morning from Monday to Saturday. As most of them were engaged in odd jobs to support their families, they couldn’t afford to lose their ‘jobs’.
After Ludhiana, the centers of non-formal education were opened in other cities and towns where a sizeable Namdhari population resides.
“Our volunteers have traveled a long way in the last six years. Starting their journey with just 25 children in 2015, now they have over 2,500 students,” added the spiritual head, whose sect has tens of thousands of followers in India and abroad.
In the meantime, volunteers, mainly the women, have opened multiple branches where special classes for learning vernacular languages, besides taking care of their physical and mental health and overall holistic development, were introduced for the children, most of them grown up amid domestic violence, alcohol abuse and other traumatic incidents at their early lives.
The volunteers have also launched the pre-primary section at some locations where children below five years are groomed to get admission in a government school. So far 1,500 such students have been enrolled in the schools.
At some places, the volunteers have hired rooms by pooling their resources and from donations near the slums to teach mostly the first-generation learners in their families.
They have also started community libraries where the children can get books for studies at home.
The book is collected through donation drives. On average, the sect manages to collect around 500 books.
An offshoot of Sikhism, the Namdhari sect, whose spiritual gurus were known for pious ideals of promoting classical music and hockey, was founded in the 18th century by Bhai Ram Singh. (IANS/KB)