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#atozchallenge: Naresh, Project Why’s Resident Rockstar

For the A to Z Blogging Challenge, I’m blogging 26 days in April based on the alphabet and bringing you stories from the nonprofit Project Why.

naresh2Today, we talk about Naresh, who has been the longest on the staff of Project Why. At times he looks like a rockstar, and at others, he could be the poster boy for a gym.

But do not be taken in by his looks, Naresh is a stellar maths teacher who can make any child excel.

When Project Why opened its first English class, Naresh had just finished his Bachelors degree and was looking for a job.He loved to teach, and fulfilled this by giving tuitions for neighborhood children, often unpaid. But in a poor home, dreams and aspirations go unheard–Naresh tried his hand at various things, even a two-day stint as a vendor in a shoe shop, amongst others.

But not for long.

Damyanti Biswas talks about the Nonprofit ProjectWhy In the slums of New DelhiProject Why had begun spoken-English classes for secondary students at the time. One day a Class X student came to class with large welts on his arms. He had been brutally beaten in school – corporal punishment still prevails in many Indian schools in spite of laws against it. A visit was planned to said school. The experience was Dickensian. The headmaster kept whirling the stick in his hand to make his point. The boy and other Project Why students were humiliated in front of the Project Why founders. The boys were called guttersnipes and the Principal contemptuously informed them they would never pass their Class X Board Examinations.

Project Why took this up as a challenge. With no funds, no space, no teacher, how do you tutor a bunch of lads for an exam in 2 short months? You need a miracle.

It was the dead of winter, a cold one in 2001. The only space available was the dusty pavement in front of the Project Why Center. The only time available with the students was from 7.30 to 9.30 am. The only teacher available was Naresh. Every morning ten students assembled in front of the center, some mats were laid out and Naresh and his boys sat in a circle for study. The cold was kept at bay by cups of tea graciously offered by Naresh’s family.

The challenge had to be won, and it was. Project Why’s secondary outreach had seen the light of day. Naresh has since almost single-handedly ensured the success of hundreds of boys and girls who have successfully cleared their Board exams. One of his students secured a 100%. Most of his students top their respective schools.

To Naresh, teaching a student is a mission he cannot fail. When exams approach, he schedules extra classes and teaches at the crack of dawn or late into the night. A feat for one who likes a morning lie-in and a late session with his pals! On exam days he’s as nervous as his students if not more, and waits for their return so he can find out how it went. Come result day, his nails are bitten to the quick as he scours the internet, his students in tow.

Recently, when he went for a visit to the Project Why Okhla Center and found out that the senior secondary students were weak, he rescheduled his timetable and took them under his wings. He never seeks extra compensation. Naresh often tells his students that he wishes there had been a Project Why when he was growing up.

Without Naresh, it would be difficult to imagine Project Why.

If this story touched you, Donate to  Project Why, CLICK HERE.

To Contact Project Why, Click Here

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

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