words: Ambica Gulati
One of the oldest cities in India, Varanasi is where the quest for nirvana is eternal. The air is thick with prayers. Boatmen call out for taking you on a ride into the middle of the river where you can perform many rites. Along the ghats, flowers flow, diyas burn. But children in tattered clothes scamper around purposelessly. Some pick rags; others scrounge for food while more stare at your belongings with that yearning of a better life so visible in their eyes and on their faces.
And offering the road to nirvana to this fresh young life is the NGO Guria. Founded by Ajeet Singh, the NGO runs a boat of learning—a unique boat school. In a large, highly populated and diverse country, education and learning can be pushed in many ways. It needs many hands, many blackboards, many books and many patrons. The Varanasi boat school is Singh’s attempt to impart literacy which will pave the way for a developed society.
This boat school is where children of all age groups spend their time usefully after school. They spend two hours to study, do their homework, play or revise all that they have learned in a friendly and healthy environment.
Singh and the children with him clarify that most of them are not going to school regularly and waste a lot of time on the ghats. This boat school gives them a nice, safe and comfortable place to learn and grow. Some of them have been coming for a few years now. They learn computer, math, Hindi, English, play games or simply sit around in a neat, clean place. All of them want on to keep this light of magical transformation ignited 24X7. And this light will burn brighter if there are hands supporting in making the interiors more child-friendly creating a sunny, happier environment. The children need more books and educational toys to support their learning, feels Singh. He will be happy with a small library to begin with. In addition, the school lacks adequate stationery. Another computer and painting kits to encourage the creative spirit of these young ones, Singh knows would add to the quality of the school. For the chidlren, it would be akin to winning a #scholarship.
No pressure, no tension, the Varanasi boat school provides an ideal learning environment for the young ones. But the journey of doing right for this section is an uphill one. The children need text books, stationery, better interiors and someone to guide them through the maze of life. Singh wants to do more and is looking for support from all sides to give these children a healthier, cleaner and more learned life. He is seeking support from likeminded people for the young ones to go to regular schools. Varanasi is, after all, the city of the learned. It is where the biggest university in Asia, Benares Hindu University, is located. It has been the city where ayurveda originated and arts and crafts thrived. It is the city where the Varanasi boat school can help do right for those who will carry its traditions into the future.