DANTEWADA: Saurabh Kumar, the district collector of Dantewada, is a man on a mission.
In the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh district where the outlawed Maoists make most of the headlines, the 2009-batch IAS officer has taken it on himself to quietly help students of Classes XI and XII make the right career choice so that they don’t go down the path of violence.
Popularly known as “Lunch with the Collector”, these two-hour career counseling sessions are held every Wednesday from noon onwards at the Government Transit Hostel at the Dantewada district headquarters.
Between 50 and 100 students are picked from a random government school in the district for each session. To begin with, each student is individually asked to speak up about his or her interests and field of study, during which Kumar and his team of officials take notes.
After all students are done, Team Kumar places various options before them. More often than not, even the brighter students are not aware that institutes like the IITs or AIIMS exist. Nor do they know about the many professional courses they could pursue.
“We try to work with higher secondary students as this is the right age when career planning should be done,” Kumar, 33, told The New Indian Express.
“We try to drill it into their heads that awareness coupled with knowledge lead to success. We tell them what practical steps they could take and try to give them the confidence to make the right decision,” he added.
The counseling session is followed by a simple lunch of poori, dal, two-three varieties of sabzi, salad and papad. Over lunch, the officials in Team Kumar – district judges, district police officers or any other visiting VIP – seek feedback from the students and try to answer whatever queries they might have.
“We were so excited. None of us thought we would ever have lunch with the collector and discuss what career to take up,” said Kumari Manisha, a Class XI student of Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Dantewada who is keen to study medicine.
Sukhmati Barsa, a Class XII Arts student of Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Palnar, said she was feeling great after being shown the way forward.
School staff who attended the session expressed enthusiasm, too. “Such events boost students’ self-confidence. They derive inspiration from the stories of struggle and competitiveness that the collector and police officers talk about,” said Vishbhan Khandekar, principal of Eklavya Kanya Residential School in Jawanga.
“This is an excellent and unique approach. Students from rural backgrounds seldom get an opportunity to directly interact with senior district officials,” said DK Soni, principal of a higher secondary school in Bacheli.
Kumar’s mission does not stop with lunch. Once a fortnight, he invites school teachers and the parents of bright students for an “Evening with the Collector” at which he continues the good work.