He is barely 18 years of age. But he looks, behaves and talks as if he is much older. He has had an audience with President Ram Nath Kovind, he informs with the slightest trace of agitation, but has had no such luck with chief minister Nitish Kumar.
But of course Sifiyan Azad (18) is fairly well known in Masaurhi, a subdivision in the district of Patna. The teenager has received several awards for social work and is greeted affectionately by elders and government officials who laud his work.
Residing close to the Taregana Railway station, he had grown up watching urchins collect garbage around the station. Many of them being destitutes or run-away children, the urchins would be on their own, earn some money by selling plastic bottles or whatever they laid their hands on. And invariably they would start gambling and get addicted to drugs and alocohol. Some of them would also veer off into crime.
At the age of 16, Sufiyan and a friend Mohammad Abid decided to start a school in an effort to educate the urchins. He and Abid used their pocket money to buy chocolates as incentive and started the school with 11 boys in the station premises. But Railway officials soon enough evicted them. The teenager, however, kept trying to plead with senior officials and the then Railway SP Jitendra Mishra, after hearing him out, issued a formal permission for the school to run in a corner of the platform.
Money was of course a constraint. But Sufiyan and Abid decided to collect old newspapers and with the sale proceeds of the ‘Raddi’ they began purchasing pens, books and exercise books for their students. The informal school that began in August, 2016, now boasts of 150 students from the slums around the station, making the two teenagers minor celebrities in the area.
As the news of their good work spread, people came forward to help, with old newspapers, grains, money and of course moral support. Officials like the BDO and the SDO began taking note of the effort and Masaurhi Block Development Officer Krishna Murari ensured that some of the urchins get enrolled in proper schools.
While Sufiyan says he was inspired by theatre activist Arvind Kumar, the latter gives full marks to the youngsters. At a time when even educationists and the ‘system’ pay so little attention to the education needs of the poor and the under-privileged, says Kumar, it is heart warming to find Sufiyan and Abid doing such meaningful work at such a tender age.
Social work by the two friends is not confined to teaching slum children. During Dussehra the two youngsters put up a stall to distribute free drinking water. On one such Dussehra they closed down their stall and were walking home at 10.30 pm when they heard a girl screaming for help from the deserted premises of a school. Both of them rushed in and forced three miscreants to flee. They accompanied the teenaged girl who had been abducted, to the police station, which felicitated the two boys and gave them a certificate.
But Sufiyan is still upset at not having succeeded in meeting the chief minister. He is also unhappy at the Social welfare Department of the Bihar Government. Watching youngsters getting felicitated by the President on Republic Day every year appears to have worked as a motivating factor. And Sufiyan is aggrieved that though local officials had recommended his name for the bravery awards etc., the Social Welfare Department sat over the file. The department, he complains, has not forwarded any name for any award from the state to the Centre over the past several years.
His mission now is to meet Nitish Kumar and solicit his support for doing something more and lasting for the slum children.
Courtesy: National Herald India