Daan Utsav: Bringing Quality School Education To The Sundarbans
This #DaanUtsav, BloombergQuint brings you a series of NGO startup stories, on how organisations across India are bringing about significant transformation, and are looking to scale up. These startups are participating in ‘Dolphin Tank’, a ‘Shark Tank’ format event with pitches made to #LivingMyPromise’s ‘dolphin’ signatories, for their support.
It was mystic that I reached the island of Hingalganj, Sunderbans, North 24 Parganas in the year 2012. What I saw here was a community of mostly beedi workers and farmers living in an extremely fragile geography. It is beautiful but ravaged by cyclonic storms that regularly destroyed their meagre farms and livelihoods. The Sundarbans has porous borders and children are vulnerable. Most of them are first-generation learners with no learning help from parents. Children, unable to cope with their studies in higher classes because of the indifferent teaching in government schools, drop out of school and take to drugs or smuggling for easy money.
I am a teacher by profession. I believe that the purpose of my life is to connect all children to a structured enjoyable early literacy program that builds a solid foundation for further learning and a fair chance for a good future. Particularly in rural areas where there is just no access to good quality education.
This is what I set out to do, first informally. I had a full-time job as a teacher in Kolkata. Every weekend I would travel to the islands, 85 kilometres away by train, boat, and rickshaw, to teach small groups of children 3-8 years old. The community was completely unaware and opening up their minds was a challenge in the early years.I would visit each household in the village Katakhali to make families aware of the benefits of early education and play therapy.
My experience was in pedagogy with a specialisation in pre-primary and primary education, with core expertise in foundation literacy and numeracy. I developed an integrated model of Montessori and experiential learning to make education more reachable, fun, and activity-based for children.
Eventually, encouraged by some enthusiastic parents, I set up the first formal play school in the village. Slowly the number of children grew from 25 to 50 to 75... an English medium school in this forested riverine Island was a dream. Some like-minded friends joined me, and we set up a formal CBSE curriculum school.
Getting quality teaching staff at the village was the next big challenge.
I enrolled young enthusiastic graduates and put them through rigorous training. They underwent regular training programs and whenever possible I brought in the latest teaching tools and techniques through volunteers from Kolkata.
Today we have a full-fledged school offering multi-lateral education from Nursery to Class IX. It is a holistic offering, with a structured curriculum along with sports, fine arts, and yoga. Our total strength is 682 children – the main school has 365 children, and we have five Early Education Centers in remote locations with 80-100 children in each centre. A brick-and-mortar school building is under construction. I also have a small team in Kolkata to help with communications, fundraising, monitoring, etc.
Funding the project has been our biggest challenge of all. Initially, I funded it with my own savings and the contributions of other board members. But as our staff strength and operational costs grew, we needed more funds. Since there is no industrial development in the islands, CSR funding has been scarce. I reached out to friends and well-wishers who helped. I have done everything from begging and pleading to networking and learning the ropes of social media marketing. Some volunteers from Mumbai and Bangalore, inspired by my story, came forward to help fundraise and we grew to what we are today. But we have a very long way to go yet.
My dream is to bring the best facilities for my children, get a CBSE affiliation and offer them excellent education up to Class XII. The region has no STEM education because of a lack of trained teachers and laboratory infrastructure for practical learning. I want to bring that to them. To be able to give my village children the ability to dream big in life and the belief that their dreams can be fulfilled. I want to give thousands of rural children that choice to dream.
Satarupa Majumder is Chief Functionary at Swapnopuron Welfare Society, and a primary and secondary school teacher with a specialisation in pedagogy.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BloombergQuint or its editorial team.