'Obamaji is someone very powerful'
A group of kids met US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama when the couple was visiting Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi. They may not know how big a leader they had met, but they sure feel proud and counted. They share their experience with rediff.com's Sahim Salim
These kids know him as only 'Obamaji'.
They say proudly that they shook his hand. When asked who 'Obamaji' is, they say 'someone very powerful.'
Anshul (6), Sunil (7) and Usha (8) were chosen to represent their 'school' -- a bedsheet spread under a tree in a sprawling Mughal garden in Old Fort complex -- before the Obamas during their visit to the Humayun Tomb on Sunday.
"He was very nice," giggles Usha, who says proudly that of all the children at the Tomb, Obama chose her to bow down and talk to.
"I did not understand what he said though," she says thoughtfully.
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Image: US President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama interacting with the school children of traditional artisans who carried out renovation works at Humayun Tomb
'Tum bohot accha kar rahe ho'
These three children are among the 20 children -- all under the age of 12 -- who are getting free basic education that their parents never had.
The Archeological Survey of India personally appoints members from their staff to teach these children for a fixed time.
The children learn basic English, some mathematics and Hindi.
Six-year-old Anshul says that Obama talked to him in Hindi.
"At first he said something in English and when he saw I could not understand, he talked to someone else and told me Tum bohot accha kar rahe ho (you are doing very well)," Anshul says.
Image: US President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama pose for a photo with the school children of traditional artisans who carried out renovation works at Humayun Tomb
ASI staff impart free education to these kids
Their teacher, Mukesh Kumar, a clerk at the ASI office, says that ASI Superintendent Archaeologist, Delhi, K K Mohammad noticed that the labourers and contractors they hired for conservation related work in Old Fort and Humayun Tomb brought their families to the worksite as well.
"When he saw that the children of these laborers were just roaming about in different Mughal complexes, missing on their education, he initiated a system in which these kids could get basic education. He appoints members from ASI staff for imparting education," Kumar says.
The children, dressed in red and white-checkered uniforms, carry slates and chalks."We give them a free biscuit when they come and a toffee at the time they leave. This is to encourage them to come more," a beaming Kumar says.
Image: The kids in their school, a bedsheet spread under a tree in a sprawling Mughal garden in Old Fort complex
Photographs: Sahim Salim/Rediff.com
Kids got gifts from Obama and Michelle
Anshul's brother, Ram Swaroop, who is a laborer at an ASI worksite says, "This initiative is worth an applaud. We come from a very poor rural background from Madhya Pradesh. The children were not even going to school there also. Here they have the opportunity to at least write their own names in English and Hindi, which is more than what we can do."
When Obama visited the 450-year-old Humayun's Tomb on Sunday, he was introduced to the 14 kids, children of workers at ASI sites.
Obama and his wife, Michelle who met them on the first floor terrace of the Mughal tomb, distributed gifts among them, which included a silver bookmark with the Presidential seal and Obama's signature.
Image: US President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama big farewell to the children