Text: Neha Khattor
Twice winner of the Ideal Teacher Award at the district and block level, in his 12 years as a teacher, Kailash Maurya has managed to bring over 600 kids, mostly from Schedule Tribes, to school in remote part of Uttar Pradesh. This wonderful teacher now has only one mission: to see that all children go to school and reach their potential
MAHARAJGANJ, Uttar Pradesh, India – At first, Dr Kailash Nath Maurya, a PhD with a Masters in Commerce, appears a misfit in this backward village of Mathura Nagar in eastern Uttar Pradesh’s Maharajganj district. But if you listen to him speak for 10 minutes, you will know that he is exactly what this village and its children needed.
When Maurya took over as the headmaster of Mathura Nagar Primary School (MNPS) in 2011, the school building was a dump-yard. The previous headmaster hardly came to the school and the villagers used to defecate in the school premises. The temple of learning, the very foundation over which a strong society is laid, was in a neglected state.
Born to a poor farmer and a third in four siblings, Maurya himself struggled to complete his education and, thus, understood how villagers felt. “Most of the people in this village are farmers and labourers. So when you have to struggle each day to feed a family of five, spending on education becomes the last priority,” says Maurya while adding convincing parents who had never gone to school was difficult for they didn’t understand the role that education could play in the lives of their children.
But Maurya did not give up. He first mobilized a group of like-minded villagers to create a team that would help him spread awareness about the benefits of education. “We would go to each house and ask parents to send their kids to school rather than take them to the fields. We would give their child a pen or a book if they agreed,” he explains.
“There are girls as young as six or seven who have to cook lunch before they come to school. So I made a point that the gates of the school are never closed. They are always welcome to come and study,” he adds.
The next step was to revive this dying school. “The first thing that we did was to clean the premises and put up a fence,” he recalls. “Explaining to the villagers that it is for the benefit of their children, many agreed to repaint the school without charging any money for their labour. During the rainy season, the kids used to fall on their way to school. So road that leads to the schools was paved in order to facilitate the access.”
From 116 enrolments in 2012, today 360 students attend this school. Many in the community are now even withdrawing their kids from private schools and enrolling them in MNPS. But there is one particular community that has experience a substantial improvement since Maurya came into their lives.
Living on one edge of the village is a group of families that belong to the Kanjar caste, a Scheduled Tribe. Earlier, the tribal kids who came to school used to be regularly humiliated and beaten up by those belonging to the upper castes. “They had lost faith in school and their fellow villagers,” says Maurya. But he took the personal initiative and got the kids back into school. “I promised them that the safety of their kids would be my responsibility.”
For Doori Lal, mukhiya of Kanjar basti, the headmaster is nothing short of a messiah. “Unhone mere bacho ko sirf maan hi nahi diya par sabse bada gyan diya… akshar ka gyan. (Not only has he ensured our children are treated with respect, he has also given them an education.)” In order for the kids to study at night, Maurya personally arranged for solar lamps to be distributed in the tribal community.
Twice winner of the Ideal Teacher Award at the district and block level, where 137 out of 151 teachers voted for him, Maurya knows perfectly all the students in enrolled in the school and he even remember their names and favourite subjects. “Each child is talented in some way. While one would be good in Maths, another would be good in science. My job as a teacher is to see that each child is nurtured,” he states.”.
Maurya has setup a small library in his room. Last month, he even got a TV for students to watch educational films. Seen as a father figure more than a teacher, his students confide everything to him, from not having a pencil to a parent using foul language at home.
For children who have never ventured beyond 30km from their village, Maurya is teaching them to have ambitions and to realize their purpose in life. Among his students is Saraswati Chaurasia, studying in Class V. She wants to plant a tree in the school. Why? “So that I can leave my mark here. When the tree grows and students sit under its shade, they’ll know that it was planted by me,” says Saraswati.
When asked whether he would like to move on to another city, Maurya has no doubts: “Never,” he says. “If all of us our going to think about ourselves, who is going to think about these kids?”
He now has only one mission: to see that all children go to school and reach their potential. In his 12 years as a teacher, Maurya has managed to bring over 600 kids to school and, he says, he has not stopped counting.