This story begins in 2012 when quite mystically, I visited Hasnabad and Hingalganj, specifically the village Katakhali in Hasnabad. At the time, the village had an approximate population of 2,000 (as per the 2011 census) with almost 150 children. The families were mainly beedi workers. Women and children make up the bulk of the workforce in this industry, and they have no access to a safe work environment or regulated minimum wages.
More importantly, this livelihood steals a child’s right to education and good health.
When the locals learnt that I was a teacher by profession, they approached me to teach the children English, a language symbolising aspiration and development in India.
Soon, I realised that the children in these areas (north Sundarbans islands) had never been to school beyond class 5. Most of the Aganwadi centres functioned merely as Khichdi centres providing midday meals. I immediately resolved to do my bit for these disenfranchised folk. So I went and met parents, spoke to them, and encouraged them to send their children as young as three years to study with me.
Thus, the seeds of Swapnopuron Welfare Society were sown in 2012 with the first 25 children who started coming to the learning centre. Slowly, children from other localities began to join, and the number grew to 50 by 2013.Teaching was mainly conducted through the play-way method, which involves activity-based learning using games, songs, flashcards, charts and the like. It also encourages expression and creative skills among children. Because of the beedi-making background of the families, formal primary education appeared to be of no concern for most of them. It took several one-on-one home visits and dialogues with parents to introduce them to the benefits of quality, age-appropriate education. By 2014, the number of children at our school had swelled to 75 as our teaching-learning process began to gain traction.
The Sundarbans has a porous border with Bangladesh which, facilitates criminal activities by providing an easy escape route. Consequently, cases of child trafficking, early marriage, and child abuse are rampant. To address the problem, we started working with the community on child protection issues and became part of the West Bengal Child Protection Commission in 2016. A year after that, we joined the block-level Child Protection Committee and the village-level Child Protection Committee of Hingalganj.
In 2015, some parents had expressed a desire to have an English-medium school. We believed the idea was worth pursuing and started preparing the ground for a complete English-medium curriculum. Though some parents were sceptical, there was a positive response, as the dream of an English-medium education now appeared to be within their reach. The children were bright, quick learners, enthusiastic and highly eager, perhaps because they have fewer distractions in these remote outlying areas.
In 2018, we leased 1.2 acres of land. Kolkata Gives Foundations supported us in this effort. By that time, the school had imparted education to around 700 students and provided education up to Class 6. After finishing at Swapnopuron, the children would join the local government school.
Once again, the community proposed extending our school up to high school until class 12. Unfortunately, schools in the Sundarbans do not teach subjects like science and mathematics at the +2 level due to a lack of infrastructure and qualified teachers. So most children were completely unaware of these subjects and their potential and inclination for them.
Several extracurricular activities like art, yoga, dance and music had already been introduced since 2015. Many children who had had no prior access to such game-based learning were very excited, and they participated and performed in them enthusiastically. Swapnopuron gave them an opportunity to acquire and hone such skills.
Our new campus opened in 2019, comprising of a series of classrooms with thatched roofs. In appreciation of the school’s impact on Sundarbans,
This was also the year I was chosen as the GAP Changemaker from Bengal in appreciation of the school’s impact on Sundarbans. This award gave us visibility on several platforms, and a couple of Mumbai-based companies supported us. Even children from other districts and islands now began studying with us.
In 2020, the foundation of the new school building was laid, and construction of the first floor started with the support of Round Table India. However, the first floor and other facilities are yet to be completed.
Over the last eight years, nearly 1,000 children have been educated under the umbrella of Swapnopuron. All the teachers are trained and are locals. Capacity building workshops for teachers are conducted quarterly. Since 2020, we have teachers who travel from Kolkata to teach. Even when the COVID -19 pandemic hit the world, our teaching-learning continued.
Our dream is to have an English-medium school from nursery to class 12 for local children who do not have access to quality education. We also wish to build a Science Hub to create a passion for science among the young, who can then invest it back into their community.
Apart from education, which is our core area of focus, Swapnopuron Welfare Society is deeply involved in the well-being and prosperity of the region under our wing. During the super cyclone Amphan, we provided more than 5,000 families with cooked food and distributed nearly 13,550 ration kits. Our efforts received approval from the local administration, which approached us to develop early childhood education centres in some of the more remote islands of the Hingalganj district.
So far, we have already opened two centres, and five more are scheduled to open later this year.
This journey has been possible because of the love and support of many passionate people supporting me and this initiative. I remain grateful to everyone who helps Swapnopuron achieve its aim to provide more children with quality and holistic education.