On a cold November morning three years ago, as Shyam Bihari Prasad entered his Hanuman Hindu Temple in Vasant Kunj New Delhi, India to pray, he was approached for the umpteenth time by the neighborhood’s poor children, begging for food and money. But this time, as he gave them biscuits from his own lunch, a thought crossed his mind. Instead of giving them charity that would last a few hours, why not offer something that would last a lifetime? So the retired business manager decided to try something new---something that could truly alter the lives of these children. Education.
He had discovered that the youths were either not able to go to school, or were frustrated in their learning by the limitations of the over-crowded and underfunded school system. So he set up his own school, for any child who wanted to learn. The sidewalk outside the Temple became his classroom, and his supplies initially consisted of one mat. But what he had in abundance was the time and the patience to offer one-to-one instruction for each student.
So, from 8:00 to 11:00 A.M. five mornings a week, Prasad would teach children of all ages a variety of subjects. At first he had to bribe them with chocolate and toffee to attend, but soon the students were coming on their own---the incentive to learn from a caring adult was enough. Prasad earned the nickname “Uncle”, and his ‘school’ grew to thirty students.
The locals, noticing the charity work, began donating food and school supplies---mats, tables, chairs, textbooks, pencils, notebooks and paper, and easels. Several adults even took over some of the teaching load.
Presently the ‘sidewalk school’---stronger than ever---includes lessons in Math, Science, Spelling and Writing (of Hindi, and English). And as distracting as the constant honking of cars and chatty foot traffic must be, the eager students stay amazingly focused.
Along with higher test scores, Prasad has also observed an unanticipated benefit of his kindness---his children, at first verbally and even (on occasion) physically abusive toward each other, have become increasingly empathic and kind in their interactions. They’re not only learning to be better students, their learning to be better human beings.
Prasad is motivated by the goal of giving these under-privileged youths as much of an opportunity for success as the children of the wealthy. But wherever his students end up, they will have learned that they are lovable, and loved. And that’s the most important lesson of all.
Shyam Bihari Prasad is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.