The school, Parijat Academy, is located in an area comprising of about ten tribal villages and where access to schools is very limited. Uttam Teron has been successful in starting a small scale school to imbibe the value of education among the children. Uttam sees educating the underprivileged children in the neighborhood as a first step in helping the community. He also hopes to start a weaving program for women and some vocational training activities.
Uttam Teron, who graduated, 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, the Parijat Academy was born. The four-room school had 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. They would ask: “What would they gain by attending school?” 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 can not manage to pay. “We are too poor,” says the guardian Ratneswar Bora.
So, how does Uttam run such a school and pay his five teachers? He says: “Sometimes if we are lucky, we get small donations from individuals. A few organizations have helped us in a small way.” Once, during a visit to Bodh Gaya, Uttam learned of a Buddhist organization in Thailand that renders assistance to underprivileged children. He sent an e-mail and, within a month, the Supreme Master Ching, who has an office in Mumbai, sent him a draft of Rs 30,000 towards uniforms for the kids. The blue-and-white uniform that his students wear is more than a year old now and has lost their sheen. 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. The 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, medical check-ups, and treatment for kids suffering from various diseases.” Tuberculosis, skin diseases, and jaundice, he says, are the common illnesses that 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 neighborhood, the lot of the people in the hamlets can be improved in 15 to 20 years’ time.