DANTEWADA: The District Collector of Dantewada, Saurabh Kumar, is a man on a mission. In the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh district where Maoists and their exploits make most of the headlines, the 2009-batch IAS officer is quietly helping students of Classes XI and XII make the right career choice and not go down the path of violence.
Popularly known as “Lunch with the Collector”, these two-hour career counselling sessions are held every Wednesday from noon at the Government Transit Hostel at the Dantewada district headquarters.
Between 50 and 100 students from government schools in the district attend each session. Each student is asked to speak up about his or her interests and field of study, during which Kumar and his team take notes. More often than not, even the brighter students are not aware that institutes such as 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 Sunday Standard. The counselling session is followed by a simple lunch of poori, dal, 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 answer their queries.
“None of us thought we would ever have lunch with the Collector and discuss career choices,” said Kumari Manisha, a Class XI student of Government Girls Higher Secondary School, Dantewada, who wants to study medicine. “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 approach. Students from rural backgrounds seldom get an opportunity to interact with senior district officials,” said D K Soni, principal of a higher secondary school in Bacheli. Kumar’s mission does not stop here. Once a fortnight, he invites school teachers and the parents of bright students for an “Evening with the Collector”.
Higher secondary schools: 28 (government) & 10 (private)
Students in higher secondary schools: 4,000
Students in high school: 11,756
Literacy rate: 41.19%