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Under the Bridge

In New Delhi, an unlikely school thrives.

This story goes from hard to believe to heartwarming all in one breath. When 40-year-old Rajesh Kumar Sharma noticed poor children working or playing during school hours on his way to work in New Delhi, he knew they weren’t getting the education they needed. The father of three thought back to how he had to drop out of college because of his family’s financial difficulties, and he vowed to change the cycle for these children.

Sharma had to fight hard to convince parents to allow their children to stop working and try to obtain an education. When he succeeded, he promptly set up shop right in the location he saw many of them every day, underneath an overpass. Daily, he takes two hours off his job at a general store to teach at least 30 children, including those too young to attend government schools.

Children sit barefoot on torn rugs spread over the dirt, facing two “blackboards” on the concrete walls (actually just rectangles of black paint). Each child has a pen and notebook. In the three years Sharma has taught, an estimated 70 of his 140 students have gone on to attend government schools.

Laxmi Chandra, a postgraduate student in science, helps out at the school. Sharma also teaches other poor children at different locations, trying to create schools where the children are.

After his work got noticed by NBC News and was featured in a Huffington Post blog, Sharma became a local hero. His goal is to provide children with the education they need to go on to government schools, but he has found his most lasting impact is that more families are not only allowing their children to study but encouraging them to do so.

—Winter 2013—

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