Harbinger of change in rural Assam

Harbinger of change in rural Assam

This Karbi tribal is a teacher with a difference

Harbinger of change in rural Assam
Volunteers from other countries come and impart skills to children

He believes in grassroots development and is leading by example. Uttam Teron, a young Karbi man, is the silent harbinger of change in rural education in the villages of Assam. The effort began in 2003 when Teron founded the Parijat Academy, a school for the severely deprived children.

Born to a train driver and a homemaker mother, Teron had a strong vision to see absolute literacy in his own as well as his neighbouring villages. Parijat academy started 13 years ago in a cow shed with just four children and hardly any facilities and a few books. But as a single teacher and having a vision to achieve absolute literacy, Teron had vowed to change the face of primary education in his village.

The academy now has full-fledged classrooms for about 600 underprivileged students who would have perhaps never accessed education. There are 23 teachers, most of them postgraduates. His unassuming demeanour, however, can barely indicate the grand ideas he is putting to action in  primary education much to the delight of the Karbi communities of Assam. Karbis are one of the smaller tribal groups in the state, always at the margins of the widely diverse political discourse in Assam.

“Those days, we didn’t have any resources to start with. With borrowed books, furniture and blackboards, I started teaching a few students. And since then the number of students has grown,” Teron explains.  Managing dropouts was a big challenge for Teron given the fact that the rural Karbi families were unwilling to recognise the need and value of education. Most of these children regularly did odd jobs and had to cut firewood for their homes. Making them realise the importance of education was a tough job.

From his childhood, Teron was deeply touched by the difficulties encountered by the poor to educate their children and with every passing day his resolve to ensure good education for the underprivileged, grew stronger.

“In a democracy, education is a pillar. It helps children to grow with ideas, wisdom and intellect. In a fast-paced world, it is perhaps the most necessary weapon, especially in remote areas with minimum exposure. In every sense education is a birthright of every child and lack of money should never be a limiting factor,” Teron says as he prepares to take the morning class at Pamohi village near Guwahati where Parijat Academy also has a new school building now.

At Parijat, students do not get just education but get a holistic development of mind, creativity, social skills and personality. “We have toured Goa, Puducherry and Mumbai for exposure visits,” Teron adds.

Today, Teron is a revered figure in Pamohi and the 10 neighbouring villages. The children in his academy are empowered with skills such as tailoring, crafting, carpentry, electrical skills, dance, yoga and music. There is a special emphasis on sports and the school is trying to build a women soccer team.

Moved by his efforts, several volunteers have come from the US, Europe, Canada and Australia and imparted special skills to the students. The volunteers stay in a guest house on the campus for several weeks and spend time with the children.

Teron believes that only books cannot lead to full-fledged education.  The students are trained to be conscious social citizens who would value global issues like climate change, environment and wildlife protection. They are also trained to deal with social evils like poverty, witch-hunting and dowry.  They are often taken to walkathons for environmental causes..

The journey was never rosy for Teron. And there was hardly anyone during those days to tell him the value of education. “But after completing my studies, I have realised its significance and effect on the mind and thought. My biggest dream is 100 % literacy and holistic development and by the grace of the almighty, I have achieved almost  95%.” Teron has been depending on goodwill donations but now has started “Support a child programme” where one can finance the education of a child for as low as Rs 300 a month.

Visitors like NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, who is also a colonel of the US Air Force, and volunteers from afar often visit the school to see its functioning. Teron’s exceptional work is being recognised far and wide. “Sometimes volunteers help contribute for children’s education and also support in making classrooms and buying sewing machines, computer systems, desks and benches, etc,” Teron added.

Teron has educated 11 villages and plans to introduce higher secondary level at the academy. “I have no free time. I’ve recently brought 23 children from a remote forest village and am keeping them at the hostel,” Teron said.

His school now has separate hostels for boys and girls. “Education is a birthright. It can change a person’s life; it can change a village,” he says.

Ratnadip Choudhury in Pamohi (Assam)