Children in slums have incredible strength and intelligence; they are alive and surviving. Let’s unite and work together to take one slum at a time and set up a support system. If we provide these children with the means to get an education, we can change the future of these children and of the nation, says the writer

While the world tries its best to deal with the impact of the coronavirus on society, many of the emergency decisions made have had unforeseen consequences. While most of us tend to do things with the best of intentions, it does happen at times that the weakest and poorest in society get hurt.

In order to get a first-hand account of what has been going on with slum children during the lockdown, I ventured out into one of the slums to meet them personally. I wanted to find out from the children themselves how the lockdown had impacted them. One advantage, when one interviews children, is that they do not yet have a ‘social filter,’ and they tend to give very candid answers that may force you to rethink things you thought you knew.

Due to the recent lockdown, schools have been closed for months, and will still remain shut for several months more. The answer to this so far has been online classes.  While I honestly applaud this effort, does this work in the slums? Sadly, it does not. When I interviewed the children, I found that they did not have access to the internet, had no computers, or that the internet available to them was so slow that they could not stream an online class. Moreover, their homes had no electricity.

William Tucker

Once I began speaking with the children, I learnt more about them. They were shy at first, but curiosity got the better of them. I was delighted to know how interested they were in speaking about their education! I asked them what their troubles were during the lockdown, and they complained about not being able to go to school; to study online (as they had no devices or internet); and not being able to get school books, notepads, or pens. 

If you have never gone into a slum to personally talk to the children there, you may possibly be missing out on the incredible strength and intelligence they have. Somehow, in spite of all odds, they are alive and surviving. If you provide these children with the means to get an education, you can change the future of the nation.

What can we do to solve this?

I believe there are many ways to improve the situation. Of course, the government does what it can, but with so many past and current crises to address, the government tends to get overwhelmed. I myself firmly believe it is a responsibility that lies with all of us. I consider it my personal responsibility to do whatever I can to improve the lives of others around me. It is not a forced responsibility; it is something I gladly take on. There is real joy in helping one’s fellow men.

Most of us have some spare time, or can make some spare time in the week. If we can’t, there are other things we can do to support those who do have spare time. Just an hour of tutoring or teaching in a slum can make all the difference in the world to a child. Training someone to be a teacher takes time. Being a tutor, however, requires far less. And there are a few basics of tutoring that can be taught in a few hours.  I am not saying that will make one an expert tutor, for that is something that comes with time. 

But one has to realise this one primary important fact in education:

It makes a world of difference for a child to be able to have a conversation about a difficulty in a subject.

You being there and allowing the child to talk about the difficulty and gently helping him out, or just understanding his difficulty, is frequently all it takes for the child to get over the difficulty. Your presence as a person, interested in his well-being, and your encouragement, can change his world.

If we unite and work together; if we take one slum at a time and set up a support system, and if we work with existing charities and slum tutoring groups, then we can change the future of these children.

I, for one, would be more than happy to provide a basic tutor training programme. This would give anyone wanting to help, the basic skills and confidence to tutor a child. It only takes a few hours to understand the tutoring basics. It really is not hard.

The elders among us have so much wisdom to give. There is a wealth of knowledge, not available in the school systems.  This is knowledge and wisdom gained only by a lifetime of living.

You can make a difference to a child in a slum. We all can. We simply need to decide to take action, and to go out there. If you are interested, let’s get a conversation going.

William Tucker is cofounder and President of Charity United, a US Public Charity, which has brought aid to more than 100,000 people across five continents. William’s humanitarian and educational work for over 30 years has dealt in issues related to human rights, drug education, juvenile delinquency, crime prevention, study and teaching skills, personal values, and education in basic business management skills. William is currently engaged in educational projects in India and has set up Clarity Learning Centres in India.