15-year-old Anuj Nirmal's interests range from writing his blog, building robots, and researching on how to create learning apps to studying human psychology and predicting how people would behave in different circumstances. His personal achievements so far range from winning an inter-school parliamentary debate competition against 30 teams to placing second in a city-wide Kho-Kho competition organized by the BMC - naming but a mere few. He has also recently been the student facilitator at a Teach For All Conference which saw participation by leaders like Wendy Kopp (Founder - Teach For America) and State Senator (Colorado) Mike Johnston.
Anuj and his family moved from a small village near Allahabad to a one room set-up in Prem Nagar Chawl in the bustling suburbs of Goregaon, Mumbai a few years ago to start life afresh. He is the youngest of 3 children and his parents iron clothes for a living. However, his tough circumstances have never deterred him from his dreams - Anuj is not only a brilliant student but also makes it a point to find the time for his passion for technology.
"I was 7 years old when sci-fi and superhero movies began to inspire me. I loved watching how superheroes were able to help the world using technology!" he says with a grin.It was then that he started to keep a journal of all the ideas that would strike his mind and experiment them on any object that he could find around him.
"I dismantled a DVD player I found somewhere once and used its parts to create a locomotive engine for a small prototype crane lift. My experimenting actually caused a power failure inside the house once which made my parents ban the activity at home altogether!"
In the absence of a computer at home, Anuj would save up money to visit an internet café to write his blog - where the owner discovered his ability to type fast and offered him a job.
Anuj draws inspiration from his parents and teachers alike.
"Studying in Siddharth Nagar municipal school, I've been fortunate to have Teach For India Fellows as my teachers since 3rd grade as they've always guided me and supported my ideas. I recently developed an interest in hacking and showed my science teacher and TFI Fellow Sravanti Didi how easy it was to hack into her computer. She wisely made me aware about cyber law and ethical hacking and recommended that I look up Ankit Fadia who wrote a book on ethical hacking in 2001 when he was just 15. Another Teach For India Fellow, Apoorva Didi, taught us how to debate and construct arguments. I've always been a shy public speaker, but Apoorva Didi made me challenge my fear by taking us to the mall and asking us to debate in front of all the people there!"
For a 15-year-old, Anuj has perfected the art of managing his time prudently. He wakes up at 5am every day, studies for an hour before reaching school at 7am. Being the 'head boy', he starts by making sure that everything is clean and ends the day by leading other students to disperse school in an orderly fashion. Since the school does not have a Hindi or Marathi teacher, Anuj attends tuitions 2- 3:30pm to address his weakness with language studies and then proceeds for Just For Kicks football practice (a TFI led annual inter-school competition) at 5pm before heading to the internet café at 7pm where he works till 9.30pm. He has also been selected by Teach for India to be in the Planning Committee for the next phase of the organisation.
"I feel so happy to be able to give my views and ideas. Teachers are usually aware about their classrooms to only a certain extent - when I interact with my classmates during recess and outside school, I get to see another side to them. I hope I can make as much of a contribution to the next phase of Teach For India as their Fellows have made to my life and thinking over the last 5 years" he says solemnly with heart-warming humility and touching honesty.
Anuj dreams to be the youngest founder of a technology company called 'Anuj's Products' that would build various tech gadgets and wishes to use the money that he makes from this company to build hospitals and schools for the poor.
"God has given us one life and we should use it to the fullest. I feel like crying when I look at beggars and handicapped people on the street and wonder why nobody is even trying to train them to talk on the phone so that they can work in a BPO for example? After all, they can still use their mouth to speak! I want to make technology that can help such people so that nobody is ever left helpless. I also see boys in my area who sit on their bikes all day - smoking and picking up fights all day. If they are so interested in fighting, they should do something useful and join the military!"
Children like Anuj Nirmal are our hope for tomorrow. Hope that one day every child in our country would be able to nurture a strong dream of his/her own.
Applications to the 2016-18 Teach For India Fellowship program are now open. Apply now at http://apply.teachforindia.org/user/register
Written By Alankrita Khera - Manager, Communications - Teach For India