JHARKHAND: A fourth-grade employee of the Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) runs a primary school with 35 children enrolled in it. His objective is to offer free education to those living in remote villages of Saranda forests in Chaibasa.
Santosh Kumar Panda set up his ‘school’ in an abandoned house built by his father. The school has also taken in its wings the kids belonging to the adjoining villages. Santosh was born and brought up in the region and has keenly watched the lives of children of forest dwellers. Lack of proper education and guidance has led these children to waste their time roaming in the jungles. Once they grow up, they become reluctant to go to school.
His school, he believes, will inspire them to study further. Santosh embarked on his mission with Shishu Vikash Nursery School, an English medium school, now being run in a house abandoned by his family a few years ago. He, his wife and two more women volunteers began teaching 20 children.
“We had to make huge efforts to convince the parents, who are mostly unlettered, to send their children to our school for free,” says Santosh. From 20 enrolments in 2017, the school now has 35 students. During lockdown, unlike other private and government schools, they have been providing study material to the doorstep of children, he says. “They don’t have smart phones enabling them to attend online classes. So, we have prepared study material which is available at their doorstep,” says Santosh.
He wants to open such schools in all parts of Saranda forests so that people living there could get out of their backwardness. He wants to make each and every person aware enough so that they start educating their children. Bharti Barua, one of the volunteers working with him, is a science graduate and gives tuition to the students of higher classes at her home. “I was impressed with the idea of starting the school. I joined it from the very first day.
It’s really very sad that people here do not give much importance to education and roam around in jungles aimlessly. That’s the primary reason for their backwardness,” says Barua. The school provides notebooks, uniforms and school bags for free. Santosh says they do not require much money to run the school because they don’t have to pay a rent or salary to teachers. Other requirements are met through charity from local employees with iron ore mines in Kiriburu; some donate notebooks, others school uniforms, and many more chip in with money for school bags.
Teachers have come forward voluntarily for the job. “Sometimes, I also have to put in some money,” said Santosh. Locals admire Panda for the extra time he makes available for the school after his eight-hour duty. “We feel like helping him,” says Sanat Kumar Sethy, a SAIL employee. Sethy’s daughter who is working as a software engineer in Chennai also helps Santosh occasionally, he says. Somwari Purty, mother of 4-year old Martha Purty studying in the school, says Santosh has come as a ray of hope for the tribal children. “He is educating our children, who otherwise would have wasted their time in the jungles,” she says, adding, “He also encourages them to do better in life.”
Wish to open more schools
Santosh wants to open such schools in all parts of Saranda forests so that people could get out of their backwardness. He wants to make every person aware so that they start educating their children