They Didn’t Let Her Start a School, So She Started a Revolution

By Shillpi A Singh

When Vimla Kaul and her husband Hari Mohan Kaul moved to Sarita Vihar in Delhi after their superannuation in 1993, they were keen to do something for the villagers next door. As a part of a Rotary Club drive, they once went to Madanpur Khadar village with some biscuits for village kids. A woman in the village praised their efforts but remarked that “instead of giving food to children, they should teach them how to earn their livelihood.”

It was a thought-provoking comment that made the couple ponder over ways and means to make a difference in the lives of village children.

Born in Shimla, Vimla Kaul did her post-graduation from Miranda House in Delhi University and worked as a teacher in Dhanbad before they moved to Delhi. An engineering graduate from BITS Pilani, Hari had retired as chief engineer in the Central Ground Water Board. After thinking over the villager’s comment, the couple decided to start a school. The idea gave a new lease of life to the childless couple, who always wanted to do something for society in general and children in particular.

“We named it Guldasta because we wanted it to be a bouquet of underprivileged children’s hopes, dreams and aspirations of a brighter future and better life ahead,” Vimla says. They started Guldasta under a banyan tree at the village chaupal in Madanpur Khadar in 1995.

vimla then and now
Vimla Kaul, then and now.  

The first batch of the school had only five students and a teacher. The couple soon shifted Guldasta to their housing colony in Sarita Vihar where around 150 students enrolled.

But the initial years were fraught with trouble for the Kauls. Their neighbours forced the school out of the colony; undaunted, they tried to start the school in the local community centre but were denied permission. They moved Guldasta to a park inside the housing complex but were asked to vacate the area.

The couple finally moved the school to the municipal park and ran it from there until an NGO, Mahamana Malaviya Mission, adopted it in October 2011. The financial aid helped Vimla rent a three-room building for the school. After Hari’s death in 2009, Vimla has been running the project single-handedly.

Today, the school that held classes in a municipal park for 16 years has grades from kindergarten to four. The classes at the school-cum-learning centre are conducted in two shifts in the morning, daily. “The class for children of other schools, who come here for guidance, is held from 9 am to 11 am. The computer class is conducted at the same time. The next shift is for children who are not enrolled in any other school. Children in these classes follow the same syllabus according to their classes as other formal schools,” says Naaz Syeda, who was a former student of the Kauls and now teaches here.

Guldasta also runs tailoring classes, a basic computer course, a beautician’s course, a henna application course and dance classes. The main beneficiaries of these vocational courses are women and girls from the village who get an opportunity to learn new skills and improve their earnings.

IMG-20170707-WA0001
A postage stamp presented to Vimla by a former student on July 7 this year, her 83rd birthday

For instance, Vimla started training local girls in henna application in 2010. Since then, every year, the girls trained by the NGO organise a camp in the Senior Citizens’ Park in Sarita Vihar two days before the festival of Karwa Chauth. Women throng their stalls in hordes, waiting patiently for their turn to get their hands and feet adorned with exquisite henna designs.

“The girls keep all their earnings and donate a part of it to the NGO. So while henna adds a dash of colour to the festivities, the money collected at the two-day camp fills shades of joy in the life of someone, unserved and unreached,” says Vimla, who has authored five books and received numerous awards including CNN IBN Real Heroes Award 2010 and the Jijabai Women Achievers’ Award 2014.

The number of girl students is more than that of boys, and so the NGO also sponsors academically gifted girls by mentoring them and funding their education. Vimla’s plans include expanding Guldasta across the city and even country. At 83, she still attends to the school’s day-to-day activities and takes classes. May her tribe increase.

First published in the August 2017 issue of eShe magazine