Tin Roof And Bamboo Walls print story
July 31, 2012
This article was published in 2006 by Outlook India. You can find the original article here.
Seven-year-old Sanjay's father Mahendra Boro works at a stone quarry. His mother supplements the meagre family income by selling home-made fermented rice beer. Himashri' 6' is the daughter of a woodcutter' Haren Basumatary. And four-year-old Apon's father Ratneswar Bora is a daily wage-earner. For these families with uncertain income' living in Pamohi and three adjoining tribal hamlets on the outskirts of Assam's capital Guwahati' educating their children was a distant dream until Uttam Teron set up a school with a difference' right at his homestead.
As Uttam watched kids wander about aimlessly it set him thinking about ways to keep them occupied. A school was the only answer. It began at his home.
"I would see little children wandering about all day' some of them venturing dangerously close to the stone quarries near Pamohi where I live'" 30-year-old Uttam told Outlook. That set this man thinking about a way out to keep these kids engaged during the day when their parents are out working or looking for work. Uttam, who graduated in 1999 from a city college, was already an active member of the Guwahati Zilla Moina Parijat, a local group working with children, giving them training in leadership, music, physical education etc. "I was training kids anyway and decided to set up a school at home to take kids around my village under my wings." In 2003 Parijat Academy was born.
The four-room school has a tin roof and bamboo walls. Uttam had saved Rs 800 from the fees he received after giving tuition to a few students outside his village. With this amount he got a pair of desks and benches made by a village carpenter. The school was ready to enroll students from nursery to Class III. Today, Parijat Academy has 41 students between three to seven years of age. "Initially the parents were reluctant to send their children. What would they gain by attending school? they'd ask. Our persistence paid off, and now we have no seat to enroll more than what we have'" says Uttam. If that sounds exclusionary, consider this: only three of the 41 students at his school pay the fixed monthly fee of Rs 80. The parents of the rest just cannot manage to pay. "We are too poor'" says Ratneswar Bora, a guardian.
So, how does Uttam run such a school and pay his five teachers? Says he: "Sometimes, if we are lucky, we get small donations from individuals. A few organisations have helped us in a small way." Once' during a visit to Bodh Gaya' Uttam learnt of a Buddhist organisation in Thailand that renders assistance to underprivileged children. He sent an e-mail and within a month' the Supreme Master Ching' which has an office in Mumbai' sent him a draft of Rs 30,000 towards uniform for the kids. The blue-and-white uniform that his students wear have lost their sheen. They are more than a year old now. A welfare group in Guwahati donated textbooks and a small amount of money with which Uttam purchased three ceiling fans to beat the summer heat. "I pay my teachers whenever I have money. Rest of the time, they bear with me. I don't know how to thank them'" he said.
What does Uttam need the most? "We need furniture, funds to pay salaries to the teachers, school uniforms, textbooks and bags, milk for the undernourished students and medical check- up and treatment for kids suffering from various diseases." Tuberculosis, skin diseases and jaundice, he says, are the common illnesses which the kids suffer from.
"Teron sir is working very hard but unless we receive support, it would be extremely difficult for us to achieve our goal of educating the poor children in this area'" says Baijayanti Teron Handique, the headmistress. Uttam feels that if he can go ahead in educating the underprivileged children in the neighbourhood, the lot of the people in the hamlets can be improved in 15 to 20 years time. A beginning has already been made.
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