Mewat Mondays: The Teacher Who Planted Trees

It’s coming to our seventh week here at SRF Foundation, and after having made several visits to Mewat, we recognise a special teacher when we meet one. This week, we identified Mr Sunil Kumar, a 28 year old teacher at the Rojka Meo Government Primary School. Behind his soft-spoken demeanour and tinted glasses, is a man who has brought about changes in the school that distinguish Rojka Meo from the rest.

Mr Sunil has been teaching at Rojka Meo since 2005. At present, he teaches all the subjects – Hindi, English, Math and Science – for Class III. Growing up, he attended government schools in Hisar, Haryana, and eventually obtained his B.Ed from the Maharishi Dayanand University in Rohtak, Haryana.

Apart from teaching, Mr Sunil also helps to assemble the students in the morning, organises games for them such as cricket and football, and helps to distribute the food during the government-sponsored mid-day meals.

“How do you check that? Do you sniff them?” we probe.

He lets out a small laugh, and replies that they check the students’ hair and forearms for tell-tale signs if the students have missed a shower that morning.

“Then what happens if you find a student with long nails? Do you punish them?”

He pauses to make sense of our question. Maybe there’s a language barrier, although he is relatively comfortable with English.

“Do you hit their hands if they have long nails?” we supplement, with a bit of gestures, as though it were a game of Charades.

“No no no, we don’t beat the children,” he adds quickly, as soon as we say that. “We tell them why it’s bad to have long nails.”

The spot checks started only after he joined the school. According to him, over the years, the students’ discipline has improved. Subsequently, the students now have a better grasp of the subjects they are learning.

Mr Sunil thoroughly enjoys teaching, and was inspired by his teacher, who shared that “a teacher never grows old; as he teaches children, he too becomes a child.” Attracted by that idea, he decided to join the teaching force. He says with a smile that he enjoys talking and interacting with the children as part of his job.

Before he joined Rojka Meo, he was teaching in Amritsar. He proudly shares the story of his ex-student, a girl named Priti, who is now pursuing an MBBS, which is a Bachelor in Medicine and Bachelor in Surgery. When they met recently, after a long six years, she had touched his feet as a mark of respect and gratitude. It is stories like hers that give him an immense sense of satisfaction as a teacher.

As do most passionate educators in poverty-stricken areas like Mewat, where education is not a priority among parents, Mr Sunil also takes the time to speak to the community to encourage them to send their children to school. He highlights to us that the government too has initiatives to encourage children from these “below poverty line” (BPL) and “backward class” (BC) families to attend school.

But the thing that makes Mr Sunil stand out from the other teachers we’ve met, is that he has taken time to plant trees in the Rojka Meo campus. Half of the compound is neatly lined with trees, and the school has even taken the pains to devise a piping mechanism to ensure that the trees receive sufficient water.

The other half is purposely left bare, so that students can play games such as football, kabbadi, or kho-kho, on its notably level ground. During our very first visit to Rojka Meo some five weeks ago, we noticed that teachers here help to organise these games during their break time.

Just some of the line of trees that Mr Sunil helped to plant

Just some of the line of trees that Mr Sunil helped to plant

Leaving a wide space for games such as kho-kho

Leaving a wide space for games such as kho-kho

What inspired Mr Sunil to plant the trees in his school? He attributes the influence to his teacher-friend in neighbouring village Mehrola, Mr Naresh, whom he describes as “a spiritual man who encouraged me to grow plants in the school.” The benefits of trees in the school are numerous: students can sit under the trees for shade; the cooks can use the sticks and twigs as fuel for mid-day meals; they add greenery to the compound; the air becomes purer, and students can feel good.

Students sit in the shade while having their mid-day meals

Students sit in the shade while having their mid-day meals

In 2006, he had gone down to a plant nursery in Sohna, who had agreed to donate several small trees to their school. He then roped in his students, who are now in Class VIII, to help dig holes and bring water for the trees.

Mr Sunil and two Class VIII boys who helped him plant the trees.

Mr Sunil and two Class VIII boys who helped him plant the trees.

If the school shifts to a bigger compound, planting trees will similarly be his priority.

As the last question, before we are hurried off to a mini reception of cold drinks andpotato chips that another teacher had specially prepared for us, we ask what his aspirations for his students are.

He pauses thoughtfully, and answers “I hope they get good jobs, and live happy lives.”

A simple wish from an extraordinary teacher.

If you would like to contribute to Mr Sunil’s efforts in making Rojka Meo a better school, email info@srf-foundation.org to discuss how you can get involved in the making of a Model School.

Mewat Mondays is brought to you by our interns, Aisyah and Rafidah, who hopes the best for Rojka Meo Primary School. As part of their field research, they have been spending time in some of the 19 villages, and will gladly share pictures and anecdotes from these experiences. Reach them at siti.mohd@srf.com and rafidah.razak@srf.com respectively.

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Filed under Mewat Mondays, Mewat Rural Education Programme (MREP)

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