Late every afternoon, when his mother and the elder ladies of the house would fall asleep, Pankaj, all of 10, would snoop out in the scorching sun to have a smoke or the intoxicating puriya. This continued until one day he was introduced to a community library-cum-fun space by his friend.
Drawn by the multiple creative choices to spend time which the space offered, Pankaj switched his afternoon haven.
Now he spends his late afternoons and evenings either curled up with his favourite comic “Tenali Raman”, or by teaching the alphabets to younger kids left in the care of the community space by working mothers. At other times, you can even spot him solving puzzles with others his age, or learning to dance.
The community space for underprivileged children is located outside the slums of the Barola community in Noida. Called “My Perch”, it serves as a perch for many like Pankaj.
Founded by Kamya Dargan, alumni of the rural fellowship program, India Fellow, the idea of “My Perch” came to her while she was working in the slums of Noida. She realized that the children from the underprivileged backgrounds need a space which offers them the freedom to learn what they wish to learn. She shares, “When I was working in this sector, I realized we were imposing things on the children. There was a need of fun and safe places where children could explore and express themselves without being judged.”
The idea soon converted into a room with walls plastered with colourful illustrations of Buddha and Bugs Bunny, a place bubbling with cheerful laughter interspersed with silent moments of reading. In addition to books, the place provides educational games and computers, and weekly dance, yoga and art classes.
The place has been running for three years, and has become a haven of joy for more than 200 children.
On the challenges Kamya faces, she says, the biggest hurdle is to get parents to send their kids here. Parents don’t realize the importance of such free learning zones, and often think, what is the point of sending them to a place which is not a tuition or a school?
However, mindsets are changing. When Pankaj’s mother learnt that his son’s habit of gorging on gutka has come to an end, all thanks to this new place for children’s ‘time-pass’, she felt relieved.
While all seems good, how does the place get funded?
“For the first year, I received a grant from the changeloom fellowship and now, it is being run from the funds of 30 committed individuals in Noida,” says Kamya.
When asked about the impact of her work, Kamya says, “When a brother offers to help his sister with chores when she is menstruating, I see an impact. Every little change that makes these kids better and wiser as human beings and expands their minds is an impact for me and is something I cherish.”
Standing identical to Rabindranath Tagore’s dream place where the mind is without fear and knowledge is free, as articulated in his poem ‘Where the mind is without fear’, “My Perch” is certainly an idea worth replicating all over India to realize Tagore’s dream of real freedom!