This is an inspiring story of Asma who chose to make a difference in her own little way and emerged triumphant.
In an inner enclave beyond busy main roads lies Nehrupuram, its streets scrupulously clean, no garbage heaps, big and small, that Bangalore struggles to clear every day. It is a thriving community that lives here, with a hunger for self-advancement. Asma Moosa lives here and is a stellar example, a compulsion for public good driving her.
Asma is one of Akshara’s eminently successful independent balwadi volunteers, a person admired and respected by her community. It started way back in 2000 when Asma was all of eighteen, young, capable, yearning for bigger goals. She was famous for taking tuitions. At one point she had 100 students in three batches. Getting started with an independent Balwadi was hence something that was soon to follow. This independent balwadi was an opportunity towards educational entrepreneurship, social development and academic grooming of little children. In Asma’s words “A job that takes the community forward.”
The prospect of being stranded at home and doing housework after completing school was not an enticing one, and her mother was already planning her marriage. Asma, in her characteristically mild way, refused to be typecast, to fit into preordained moulds. This simply meant her family was not willing to send her to work. However, an independent Balwadi being a home based venture made things easy for Asma. This simply meant giving back to society while ensuring a modest personal economic stability along with family support.
Asma was quiet familiar with Akshara and the work they were doing. This was when she approached Fatima, an Akshara librarian in a government school nearby. This was indeed the turning point of her life and she realized her true calling.
Akshara’s training for independent Balwadi volunteers not just trained her but also opened new avenues for Asma. It taught her skills she never knew she needed – managing children, extracting the best out of them, helping realize their potential. The significance of preschool education and how it builds foundations for later development was new to her, and she never knew so much was possible with teaching-learning material. It had seemed like child’s play opening a balwadi. Now she knew what it meant. Most importantly the training taught her how to harmonise an entrepreneurial streak with community service.
Asma set up her balwadi in a room in her mother’s house. Akshara provided her with everything she needed to start a preschool. All the teaching-learning material, books, forms, registers, identity cards for the children, even pins and clips, she happily quips. She was out in the community every day searching for children for her balwadi, coaxing parents. “Only three children turned up on the first day,” she says, quietly reliving what could easily have turned into a disaster.
Her house-to-house searches for children and persuasions in the community yielded steady results. Asma’s hard work, and a slowly spreading acknowledgment of it, paid off. Soon students began trickling in and the number changed from 3 to a bunch of 40 kids. Asma charged Rs. 50 per student. She was the proud recipient of a trophy from Akshara for drawing the highest number of children in the first year of operations.
Asma’s marriage in 2008 seemed to shadow her success as her husband did not want her to work but her dogged determination won. Today Asma operates out of a new multi-storeyed building the Maulvi of the mosque next door has provided her. Her balwadi has grown. She has 135 students in four sections – pre-nursery, nursery, Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG), all compartmentalized and in distinct sections with separate curriculums. Asma runs an English medium preschool. It is a professional set-up.
If her balwadi has grown so has Asma. She has a big reputation for preschool education in Nehrupuram. “I am famous in this area because of Akshara. And yes, people acknowledge me as a good teacher,” she says with humility.
What has made this journey possible? It is her never say die attitude and hard work. She hopes to be a role model and make her school an ideal example for others to follow. In spite of her rise and the position she holds in her community Asma maintains her humility. She herself laid down terms for herself, but with sensitivity. Today, her 3 ½ year old son does not study in her balwadi because he cannot accept his mother as a teacher, is looked after a lot of the time by her mother, leaving Asma free to shoulder her work. It indeed is a two-way street but she manages it all with dedication and sincerity.
Asma negotiated with her family for that work-space in her life, to be allowed to do something better, larger, meaningful, without cutting off relationships. “If women are not allowed to go out and do something they can do it at home. But women should do something. They play a decisive role especially in education”.