Project WHY opened its first spoken English class for secondary students in 2001 in Giri Nagar. It was the same time that Naresh had just completed his Bachelor’s degree in Arts and was looking for a job. He was a whizz mathematician and loved to teach, and to fulfill this passion he was giving tuitions to the neighborhood children, often for free. But in a poor home, one cannot afford to dream, for dreams do not put food on the table. Naresh tried his hand at various jobs, even as a vendor in a shoe shop, which just lasted two-days. His heart was not in it.
One day, in November 2001, a Class 10 student, Aadarsh, came to class with large welts on his arms. He had been brutally beaten in the government school he attended. Corporal punishment still prevails in many Indian schools despite a law against it. Project WHY resource persons visited the government school. The experience was Dickensian. The headmaster kept whirling the stick in his hand to make his point. The boy and other Project WHY students were humiliated. The boys were called guttersnipes and the Principal contemptuously informed us that these boys would never pass their Class 10 Board Examinations (a state level examination).
Project WHY took up the challenge of providing these boys with support to clear their Class 10 examination. With no funds, no space and no teacher to take this forward, Project WHY was in need of a miracle to get the bunch of lads ready for an exam in two short months.
A miracle came in the form of Naresh, who happened to be the elder brother of a teacher, Rani. He had just finished his degree and was looking for a job in the Giri Nagar area, where Project WHY had started. The only space available was the dusty pavement in front of our center and the only time available to tutor the students was between 7.30am to 9.30 am in the morning before they went to school. Every morning ten students assembled in front of the center, some mats were laid out and Naresh and his boys sat in a circle to study. The cold was kept at bay by cups of tea graciously offered by Naresh’s family.
That year, the challenge was won. The boys cleared their Class 10 examinations and this marked the beginning of Project WHY’s secondary outreach programme. Since then, Naresh has single-handedly ensured the success of hundreds of boys and girls who have successfully cleared their Board exams. The boy with the welts is now father of a little boy and all set to immigrate to Australia after having completed his higher education.
To Naresh, teaching a student is a mission he cannot fail. When exams approach, he schedules extra classes and teaches at the crack of dawn or late into the night. This is quite a feat for someone who likes a morning lie-in and a late session with his pals! On exam days, he is as nervous as his students, if not more, and waits for their return so he can find out how it all went. Come results day, his nails are bitten to the base as he scours the Internet, his students in tow.
Recently, when he went visited the Project Why Okhla Center and found out that the senior secondary students were in need of some extra tutoring, he rescheduled his timetable and took them under his wings. He never seeks extra compensation. Naresh often tells his students that he wishes there had been a Project WHY when he was growing up.