Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Bhaiya & his Angels

Sylvester Peter or the famous ‘Bhaiya’ of Angels Academy (AA) has been tirelessly working to ensure basic holistic education for about 70 ‘Angels’ of Vikaspuri. Housed in a small rented room in Indra camp No 4, AA was formed ten years ago, though its formal registration happened only last month. “I thought I must stay as close to the kids if I truly want to make a positive change in their lives,” says Bhaiya. A holistic trainer by profession, he has evolved a health and study regime for children- seniors, juniors and ‘sub-juniors’, who are simultaneously enrolled in the local government school as well.
It’s difficult to photograph all the Angels in one go so we took a series of photos. This one here is bursting with Angels :).
Senior Angels like to stay over at AA so that they can wake up the rest by 4:30am-4:45am for early morning yoga and soccer practice in the playground nearby
Other outdoor activities include playing football matches with non-slum children, skipping, playing badminton, marbles, khokho, dog-and-the-bone, gallery, hide-and-seek, riding swings and so on. Sunday however remains the favourite day for such fun-filled activities :).
Angels after playing one such football match with a local school. Girls have grown up to be competent football players, with in-fighting to have them on 'their side' during matches
Sharing food at AA
Most festivals like Eid-ul-Fitar, Diwali, Christmas, New Year etc call for some form of celebration at AA. Sometimes Bhaiya cooks a special dish for everyone in the room itself, like an elaborate non-vegetarian dish prepared on last Republic Day, or kids save every paisa for months to throw a birthday party for Bhaiya, with new ways of surprising him everytime, like this time in August 2009.
Angels worked over-time to decorate AA, lined up outside holding rose petals to surprise Bhaiya
Inside there is a freshly baked 2-kg chocolate truffle cake and Bhaiya’s best friends- Dr Harsh and his wife- waiting to hug him a ‘Happy Birthday.’ There’s not only Angel-made Indian food inside, there are also these precious hand-made birthday cards on the wall, awaiting Bhaiya's affectionate and approving glance. As a birthday gift, Angels purchased a cloth piece and Laddan (the boy wearing blue clothes and standing behind Bhaiya in the picture), stitched a T-shirt for him. 
Dr Harsh and his wife were specially invited for the get-together
Sumptuous chocolate cake and Bhaiya's birthday gift- a shirt stitched by Angel Laddan (wearing blue clothes; standing behind Bhaiya)
Angels during regular study hours at AA on any ordinary day
Free classes are arranged on an hourly basis daily in four time slots- 3pm-4pm, 4pm-5pm, 5pm-6pm and 8pm-9pm. Every group has a senior Angel teaching six-seven juniors with daily entry in attendance registers by both. Children are free to issue indoor games like carom board, chess, clay, toys, puzzles etc after they have completed their one hour of serious learning work at AA after returning from regular school. They usually borrow play things and return them next day so that others can freely issue them too. Strangely, most Angels inform that learning in government school is minimal and exams often cleared through forced cheating. One Angel even said that she was forced to come first in class when her answer sheet was filled by her teacher! Many Angels joined in chorus, complaining about seniors at school coming and writing down answers on the blackboard or behind the door with chalk, so that every student can clear exams and get promoted to the next class. No wonder time spent studying at AA is very valuable since this is where some serious learning happens.

Sanjay (left) and Sandeep (right)

Amit Senior and Rajesh
Chandan and Pooja
These are photgraphs of some of the senior Angels. Most of them teach juniors and sub-juniors. Sanjay (top left) is a budding photographer and Sandeep (top right) is in college and dreams of becoming an IPS officer.
What is very interesting is that AA is a small room, but despite that, there’s a whole world bustling with activity in that 'small' space. One end of the room is used as an entrance while the other end is used for maintaining stocks- footballs, shoes, toys etc, side-shelves have text books and notebooks neatly piled up, stationery, colour books etc. There is also a space on the wall where relevant newspaper clippings are pinned daily to inform Angels about a larger world and the importance of dreaming big and out of the box.
There’s a set of daily duties defined for most students like ‘Shoe and Football Attendance’, so that the in-charge knows who has what at any given point in time so that the common resource can be optimally used by everyone who is available then. Mind you these are professional soccer shoes especially purchased by Bhaiya for seniors and juniors. There’s also a ‘Cleanliness In-charge,’ who ensures that everything in the room, including the walls, is free of dust and cob webs. There’s one Angel maintaining daily ‘Study Attendance’ record too. Sunday is a test day for all and Monday is an off day at AA.
What is most amazing is that Angels manage to do everything in this small room itself, including practising dance and drama for their Annual Day function at St Mark’s school in October 2009
Emcees for the day- Sandeep and Sanjay

‘Voh Kisna Hai...'
Boys dancing to ‘Fatak’ from film Kaminey

Angels performed many quick acrobatic stunts revealing their stamina and agility. Only months of practice can yield such a level of performance. See below.
Towards the end of the programme, many unusual awards were distributed by Rukmani Maam- Bhaiya's own school teacher since class IX- amidst loud applause and cheer. Tanjeer got awarded for being the ‘Most Committed Person of the Year’, who promised he’ll attend school and AA instead of ragpicking. There were awards for 'Best Football Player' of the year from sub-juniors (Anand Kumar), juniors (Mukesh; below), seniors (Shakeel) and Best Female Footbal Player (Arti Junior). The award for 'Best Hygiene Person of the Year' went to Pappu. There were awards for 'Best Student' (Rajesh), 'Best Academic Learner' (Amit Senior), 'Best Educator' (Chandan) and 'Full Attendance' (Sabreen) too, which are some of the regular awards given by conventional schools as well.
Rukmani Maam (Bhaiya's school teacher) distributing awards to Angels on their Annual Day function on 25th October 2009
Angels at Delhi Zoo, painting to their heart’s delight :)
One cannot stop feeling amazed at Bhaiya's level of commitment towards Angels, and the fact that since a tender age of 13 years, he has been training children much younger to him, be it dhobi’s son or dhabewala’s, it never made any difference Bhaiya's humanity.
But what about lakhs of other Angels scattered in a cold city like Delhi? What about their food and nutrition, education and creative growth? What about their future lives? AA runs solely on one person’s goodwill and resources, coupled with small irregular donations by well wishers. So, will the government not do anything for the lakhs of children AA cannot possibly reach, even if it wants to?

Three Angels selected for Delhi 'Barcelona Camp' in January 2012

MORE about Angel Academy


(All photographs have been provided by AA, except the first one. Immense gratitude to Surabhi for introducing me to Angels.)

1 comment: