Indian Couple Run Street-Side Classes for Poor Students

On a quiet road in India’s capital, tucked away on a wide, red-bricked sidewalk, kids set adrift by the country’s COVID-19 lockdown are being tutored.
 
The children, ages 4 to 14, carry book bags more than 2 kilometers (a mile) from their thatched-roof huts on the banks of the Yamuna River to this impromptu, roadside classroom. There, they receive free lessons in math, science, English and physical education, taught by a former Indian diplomat and his wife.
 
It all began when Veena Gupta’s maid, who lives on the bank of the river, complained that with schools shut, children in her impoverished community were running amok and wasting time.
 
“If they stayed at home doing nothing, they’d become drifters,” said Dolly Sharma, who works at Veena’s high-rise apartment, which overlooks the lush riverbank.
 
Veena, a singer and grandmother of three, and her husband, Virendra Gupta, decided to go out to the street and teach the kids so they are not left behind when school reopens.
 
“They don’t have access to internet, their schools are shut and they don’t have any means to learn,” said Veena, who bought books, pencils, notebooks and other teaching materials, and set up the small, open-air classroom under the shade of a leafy banyan tree.
 
India’s stringent lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19 shut schools across the country in late March. Most remain closed as the number of cases has surged past 5 million, making India the second worst-hit in the world after the United States.
 
While many private schools switched to digital learning and online classes, children in most government-run schools either don’t have that option or don’t have the means to purchase digital learning tools like laptops and smartphones.
 
“There is only one mobile phone in my family and it is usually with my father. I can’t study online,” said Nitin Mishra, a ninth grader in Virendra’s math class. Mishra’s mother works as a part-time maid and his father is unable to find employment as India’s economy has been hit hard by the pandemic.  
 
The street-side classes have grown as dozens of children showed keen interest. Now the Guptas — with help from their driver, Heera — teach three different groups three times a week, morning and evening.
 
After class, the children are treated to homemade lemonade and cookies prepared by Veena.
 
The Guptas say teaching the kids makes them feel closer to their grandchildren, who live abroad.
 
“My father would make me spend my summer vacation learning the next year’s curriculum in advance,” said Virendra, who served as Indian ambassador to several countries including South Africa.
 
“That really boosted my confidence and made me interested in schoolwork. And that is what I am trying to do with these children, so when their school reopens, they are slightly ahead of their class.”
 
Veena said she hopes to recruit more volunteers to teach the street-side classes.
 
“It is not about the money that people can contribute and give, it is about their time,” she said. “They should take out little bit of their time, an hour or so, if not every day, every alternate day, and come and help these children.”

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Kenya’s Fight Against Covid-19 Hampered by Allegations of Graft

Organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF, and the Jack Ma Foundation have contributed aid worth more than $2 billion to aid Kenya’s fight against COVID-19.  But much of the money and donated medical supplies have gone missing, prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to order an investigation into who might have taken it all.  Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.  Camera: Amos Wangwa 
Producer:  Rod James 

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Ethiopian Opposition Leader Appears in Court on Terror Charges 

Ethiopian opposition leader Jawar Mohammed and 22 others appeared in court Monday to face charges of terrorism and other crimes. Jawar, a media mogul and outspoken critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, was arrested in June following the killing of popular singer Hachalu Hundessa, a champion of the Oromo ethnic group. Political analysts say the charges are likely to raise tensions in Oromia, Ethiopia’s largest and most populous region.  In November last year, Jawar — who runs a television channel, the Oromia Media Network — met with Prime Minister Abiy in hopes of convincing him to revise his nationalist agenda and favor more political autonomy for Ethiopia’s diverse collection of regions, including Oromia. But the two men’s relationship fell apart and Jawar joined the opposition Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC).  He began campaigning against the government inside packed sport stadiums.  FILE – Jawar Mohammed, center, addresses supporters outside his home in Addis Ababa, Oct. 24, 2019.Then in late June, after the death of Hachalu Hundessa, Jawar and some of his loyalists joined the body en route to the singer’s hometown, Ambo.  FILE – In this image taken from OBN video, the coffin carrying Ethiopia singer Hachalu Hundessa is lowered into the ground during the funeral in Ambo, Ethiopia, July 2, 2020.Someone — it is unclear who — decided to hold a ceremony for the body in Addis Ababa. When a standoff between federal security officials and Jawar’s supporters ensued, a police officer was shot dead and Jawar later arrested. Authorities have now charged Jawar with inciting ethnic violence through his television channel and speeches. He’s also charged with telecommunications fraud and terrorism.  The charges could prevent Jawar from running in Ethiopia’s upcoming but still unscheduled elections. William Davison, a senior analyst for International Crisis Group, says Jawar’s potential absence could undermine the polls.  FILE – Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and leader of the Oromo protest speaks during a Reuters interview at his house in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Oct. 23, 2019.“Unless prosecutors provide convincing evidence that the Oromo opposition leaders are guilty of these grave charges, then, if they are convicted, there will be a widespread public perception, especially in Oromia, that the Ethiopian government is once again engaging in politicized prosecutions. This will make it very difficult for the authorities to run a successful election next year that is considered fair by all major actors and constituencies, and so the vote will not be the landmark democratic moment that was hoped for,”  he said.Among those who appeared in court on Monday was Bekele Gerba, deputy chairman of the OFC, who has also been charged with inciting violence and terrorism.  His son Samuel Bekele told VOA that after attending several pre-trial court sessions he is convinced his father’s case has been politicized. “We expected them to come up with something a bit believable. But they just pulled the old trick,” he said. “They recycled the old trick and they accused them of terrorism, telecommunication fraud and other things. It is aimed to eliminate the formidable political opponents of Abiy Ahmed.  I don’t think they’re going to convict them if they follow the rule of law.”  Prime Minister Abiy said last week that Ethiopia is fully committed to its democratic transition which he began in March 2018. Writing in the Economist magazine, he reaffirmed the importance of a free press, a vibrant civil society, an independent judiciary and an open political space. But he also stated that certain individuals and groups in Ethiopia “are harvesting the seeds of inter-ethnic and inter-religious division and hatred.”  Jawar’s lawyer, Kedir Bulo said Monday that both Jawar and Bekele were merely expressing their rights by giving a voice to millions belonging to the Oromo ethnic group. “What Jawar and others have been doing for the past two years [is] challenging through the legal channels. That means, they were organizing their people so their interests [are] secured in the legal way,”  said Bulo.Jawar and the other defendants are scheduled to appear back in court on Thursday.   
  
  
  

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Slow Reopening for India’s Taj Mahal After 6-Month COVID Shutdown

India’s iconic 17th century Taj Mahal monument reopened Monday after its longest shutdown even as the country grapples with rising coronavirus cases.The reopening of the famed white marble Mughal-era monument in Agra town after six months is a signal that the world’s second-worst hit nation by the pandemic will steadily ease restrictions to bring its devastated economy back on track and restore lost livelihoods, observers say.The long, snaking lines that could seldom be skipped at the Taj Mahal were missing. A visitor from Taiwan and a family from New Delhi were among the first to enter the monument that was sanitized before being opened, according to officials.Only 5,000 visitors will be allowed a day with restrictions that have become the norm amid the pandemic. “Masks are mandatory to enter the monuments and all tickets must be purchased online. Ticket counters will not be open,” according to Vasant Kumar Swarnkar, superintendent at the Archaeological Survey of India in Agra.Group photos, one of the highlights for families or friends who posed in the lawns outside with the iconic Taj Mahal in the backdrop, will not be allowed to ensure that physical distancing norms are followed, say authorities.The pandemic led to the monument’s longest shutdown in history – it was briefly closed during the Second World War, in 1971 when India and Pakistan fought a war, and in 1978 when Agra city was flooded.The Taj Majal’s reopening has brought a glimmer of hope to a tourism-dependent town whose economy revolves around the monument. The major draw for international tourists to India, it attracts seven million visitors a year that include foreign dignitaries.  U.S. President Trump made a visit during an official trip to India in February.“The monument’s reopening is a start at least and we hope it will help people overcome the fear that the pandemic has created about traveling. Initially we only expect to see domestic visitors who can drive in their own vehicles from nearby places,” according to Rajiv Tewari, president of the Federation of Travel Association of Agra.As in most countries, the travel and tourism industry has been battered the worst. In Agra, hotels and restaurants are struggling to stay open, several shops that sold curios and handicrafts have downed shutters and tens of thousands have lost livelihoods.A health worker takes temperature of a patient at a makeshift COVID-19 care center in New Delhi, India, Sept. 19, 2020.For Mohammad Shakeel Khan, who made a living as a tour guide, the monument’s reopening has rekindled some optimism, but he said he is unlikely to get work until foreign visitors return. “I have been at home for six months, but until international travel returns to normal, it will be difficult for my work to come back.”It is the plight of millions like Khan that is prompting India to return to business as usual although it has been reporting the world’s biggest daily jump in cases for some time. India now has nearly 5.5 million infections, according to the Johns Hopkins University, which is tracking the global outbreak. More than 4 million of these cases have been added in the last two months, according to Indian officials.Markets, businesses and restaurants have opened in most Indian cities, and public transport and domestic flights have largely been restored although international travel is still restricted.India had imposed the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns in March, hoping it could avert being devastated by the virus, but cases started rising after the restrictions were eased and travel resumed. Although as a proportion of its 1.3 billion population, India’s numbers are still small compared to countries like the United States and Brazil, it is expected to eventually become the worst-hit country by the pandemic. 

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At Least 8 Die in India Building Collapse

Indian authorities have confirmed that at least eight people died in a residential building collapse Monday morning in Maharashtra state.Search and rescue teams are working to find and bring to safety dozens of people who may be trapped in the rubble.At least 11 people were injured when the four-story building collapsed, the commissioner of Bhiwandi in Thane district, a suburb of India’s financial capital, Mumbai, said.Pankaj Ashiya said that the building was more than 30 years old and was due for repair and renovation, which were delayed due to the COVID-19 lockdown.During the June-September monsoon season, when heavy rains weaken the foundations of buildings that are poorly constructed or old, India experiences frequent structure collapses.  

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Government Airstrikes Kill at Least 24 in Afghanistan, Witnesses Say

In Afghanistan on Sunday, relatives of victims and witnesses told the Associated Press that government airstrikes in the northern part of the country killed at least 24 people, including children, and wounded six others.Two witnesses contacted by the Associated Press news agency said most of those killed in Saturday’s airstrikes, which hit the village of Sayed Ramazan in Kunduz province, were civilians.”This is the shell of the bomb,” said Khan Mohammad, a relative of the victims, indicating spent munitions. “Seven children were at the corner of the house where the bomb was dropped.”Villagers said the first airstrike targeted a house belonging to a Taliban fighter.”If you (the government) want to make peace, why you are dropping bombs?” asked Mozafer Khan, a relative of the victims. “Because of one Taliban they have killed 20 (civilian) people.”The airstrikes came as government and Taliban negotiators are meeting for the first time in Qatar to end the decades-long war and conflict in Afghanistan and settle the future of the country.The Afghan Defense Ministry said the airstrikes killed 30 Taliban fighters and an investigation was underway into allegations that civilians were among those killed.The village of Sayed Ramazan is in Khanabad district, which is controlled by the Taliban.A spokesperson for the group condemned the airstrikes and said the Taliban was not conducting any military operations in the area at the time of the airstrikes.The United Nations has strongly condemned both sides in Afghanistan’s conflict for the killing of civilians.  

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