Current student count stands at a whopping 70 over two days of classes — a far cry from where it all began
On a gloomy October afternoon in a remote village in Birbhum, West Bengal, around 40 children huddled together as they listened intently to their young teacher.
The ‘classroom’, if one could call it that, was just an open ground under a heavily overcast sky. Just adjacent to the ground stood an abandoned brick enclosure, covered by a tin roof — the only refuge when it started pouring.
The children, however, seemed least perturbed by the starkness of the surroundings. With great enthusiasm, they showed their ‘dada’ the homework they had completed.
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They ran out in glee as the class ended, splattering mud and kicking red dust in a swirl.
The ‘teacher’, 20-year-old Chandranath, sat back on his plastic chair and smiled. Six months ago, he and his friends had set out on a mission to teach the local tribal children in the area.
The group has come a long way with constant support and encouragement from Child Rights and You (CRY), a non-profit. They say that change is the only constant in life and everyone can make a difference.
In a fast-paced 21st-century world swept up by technology and a life that’s become a never-ending race to the top, the group of CRY volunteers toiling away silently in a remote corner of rural Bengal stands out as a heart-warming journey towardsa bringing in social change.
The crusade began in June when Chandranath Mukherjee wanted to do ‘something’ for the local community alongside preparing for government exams.
With all possible support from CRY, he gathered a few of his friends and decided to start teaching local children in the village.
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Most of the children were enrolled in the nearest government school, but their parents didn’t often send them as it was too far to commute daily, said Chandranath.
“The nearest town from the village is Rampurhat, about 40 km away. Public transport is scarce. So, the dropout rate was very high, especially during the monsoons”, he said
The idea of teaching children met with a lot of scepticism and logistical problems cropped up. But Chandranath and his team — Nikita, Ayan, Rahul, Aditi and others — sorted them out with patience.
Sensing the reluctance of the community to send in their kids, the group took the help of the village Pradhan (chief). It took a lot of convincing, but finally, some families agreed.
Deliberations and discussions were held at length to fix a ‘classroom’ before someone suggested this enclosure and the open yard.
Classes finally started in July with just five to six teachers and 20 students (classes IV-VII), muddy ground, a leaking roof and a host of other seen and unseen challenges.
But there was no shortage of enthusiasm. Inside the two-walled enclosure, the young team of teachers tried to break the ice with their shy students when the rains poured in.
Some of the children, even though officially in classes four and five, did not know how to spell their names, add up two simple numbers, or were unaware of the significance of August 15 or January 26.
Communication was also a big problem — the kids spoke and understood only the local tribal dialect, which many volunteers were unfamiliar with.
Not to be daunted, Chandranath asked the senior students in the class to act as interpreters. The ‘syllabus’, so to say, was simple — spelling and pronunciation of and use of simple Bengali and English words, simple calculations, identification of fruits, flowers and trees and celebration of special days.
That was six months ago. Today, a lot has changed. The children have indeed made appreciable progress with books, stationeries and lesson plans supplied and put in place by CRY and the volunteers’ zeal and enthusiasm.
The current student count stands at a whopping 70 over two days of classes — a far cry from where it all began.
For Chandranath and the team, this volunteering stint is much more than a mere mention on their CV or making good use of time as they prepare to chart out their own careers.
Some of them have their futures planned out. Others are still weighing their options. But the memories of this enriching experience will forever bind them together.
“This bunch of children has become an integral part of our lives in a way we never imagined. However busy we are, we try to drop in by turns and take classes. Their smiling faces inspire us to work harder,” said Chandranath.
The kids have learnt so much, although much more remains to be taught and learnt, he added.
“The responsibility of change lies with all of us,” said CRY founder Rippan Kapur. The true essence of volunteering is this and so much more.
If you happen to spot a child in torn clothes sitting on the pavement and leafing through a book and you feel strongly about it, always know that you can change it in your own way.
Chandranath and his team are cherishing the experience. So will you.
Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth
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