Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people

by HANDS AROUND THE WORLD
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Help disadvantaged Bengali children + young people
Teachers assessing work completed at home
Teachers assessing work completed at home

The New Life Centre school has not reopened since March but the online teaching and assessment of students by teachers is ongoing. The older children, particularly those who will be sitting their Board exams (equivalent of GCSEs) in February, are tutored and monitored closely by some of the staff who set them work with hard copies and then meet to assess it as shown in the picture above. 

The Vocational Training Centre tailoring course reopened on 1st December with social distancing, hand sanitisers and a mobile temperature scanner in place to protect everyone.

Alindra has remained busy throughout, monitoring the childrens’ progress as they learn in these exceptionally difficult circumstances; without a regular source of electricity, nowhere to study at home and, for the most part, parents who cannot help their children even in the most basic levels.

January is the beginning of the school year in India and usually an exceptionally busy time as parents come to register their children. Thankfully despite these strange times parents have not been deterred from registering their children, as seen in the picture below.

The Government has decreed that revision classes on the 2020 syllabus should be held on line if possible but also, as has been the case in Sarberia, through hard copies from now until the end of February and then the new syllabus will start in March, when hopefully the schools will be reopened.

As we know, there is no certainty to anything at the moment, but Alindra remains positive despite the most difficult circumstances, as he wrote to me recently, ‘By God’s grace we are keeping safe and as a whole things are going as well as can be’.

Registering for the new school year
Registering for the new school year
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Making bamboo fishing traps
Making bamboo fishing traps

Alindra Naskar, the founder and Director of the New Life Centre school, is always looking for ways of helping the local community improve their working and living conditions. Life for the majority of parents in the school is very much based on a subsistence daily wage for manual labour. The two local industries are brickmaking and fishing as this is a low lying area near the Bay of Bengal and therefore abundant with ponds.

At the beginning of lockdown there was a disastrous cyclone and many locals lost their houses making it essential therefore to earn money to repair or replace their homes. Alindra came up with this idea of bamboo fishing traps, which he himself made in his childhood. As this was the monsoon period also it meant that manual labour was curtailed and so it was important to find alternative sources of income.

As you can see many families have been helped by this cottage industry. The traps cost about £3.50 in bamboo, which Alindra supplied so that people could get started. The take up has been significant and this has enabled villagers to continue to earn over the wet season and provide income for the repairs and rebuilds so many need.

As enterprising as ever Alindra not only educates the children in this impoverished area but also has once again provided the villagers with a sustainable form of income. Wouldn’t you like to support this ingenious individual in the work he undertakes in this poorest of areas?

Bamboo fishing trap for lime fish
Bamboo fishing trap for lime fish
Making the traps
Making the traps
A growing cottage industry
A growing cottage industry
Families working on the traps together
Families working on the traps together
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Since my last report in March the world has changed dramatically. India’s Prime Minister Mr Modi imposed a nationwide lockdown on 25 March, announced with little warning, leaving millions stranded and without food. People were only given 4 hours notice and had no time to get back to their villages before transport and work shut down. A Kolkata based NGO Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, which works with migrant labourers said it had received tens of thousands of calls for help since the lockdown and had identified at least 30,000 workers across the country who were stranded and facing imminent starvation.

I would be seriously concerned if the New Life Centre school was in Kolkata, but thankfully it is situated in a remote rural area of West Bengal. Whilst this has proved to be difficult for the school financially, as it is the cities that benefit from Government Aid, at these times it is definitely a blessing. So far no Covid-19 cases have been detected in the Sarberia area. The area is known as a green zone which means that it is virus free.

The Indian government put in place an online teaching programme at the beginning of April for 13 – 16 year olds. This is implemented through a Group WhatsApp system by subject and class. When I asked Alindra Naskar how this could work in this poor remote area with limited electricity, he replied, ‘Government education department will telecast through the TV subject wise as per Board syllabus. Our teachers will monitor the programmes and follow up through phone calls with the students, checking on their progress. This is due to start on 10th April.'

It is unexpectedly going quite well with some children, but there are a good number of children in the school who are unable to participate due to not having easy access to an Android / Smartphone and therefore relying on neighbours or friends!

When asked how the staff were managing financially, Alindra writes, ‘The staff of the school is managing with their own resources but we are paying some salary to those who are teaching through online system, despite not receiving school fees for the last 3 months.’ The only source of income now is through donations.

A further disaster struck on May 20th when Cyclone Amphan, the first super cyclone to form in the Bay of Bengal since 1999, hit West Bengal and Bangladesh.

Three districts in India's West Bengal where the New Life Centre school is situated were very badly hit.

Thankfully there are no fatalities amongst the New Life Centre school community and the school only sustained minor damage to the windows, but there was devastation around the area. The majority of the staff and families in the school live in mud huts, and these had been destroyed. Electricity cables were down so it was difficult to communicate with the staff and parents, but Alindra would not rest until he had checked on their safety.

As I write, the school will be closed until the end of July although it is uncertain when it will reopen as the numbers of Covid 19 cases are on the rise in India. In the meantime Alindra Naskar and the staff work as well as the limited resources in the area allow, never losing sight of the fact that children are at the heart of all that they do.

Wouldn’t you like to show solidarity for this community at this time of extreme hardship?

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The beginning of the school year in January is a busy time for Mr Naskar and the staff of the New Life centre, not only for welcoming new students, but in sorting out the books for distribution. The staff are in the school before the beginning of term for this purpose.

Schools in India have to have their name printed on the front of the exercise book, which means that the books cost more but also limits ‘shopping around’ for cheaper books.

For a school which exists to serve the poorest children in this village, book buying at the beginning of each year is only one of the ways in which Mr Naskar has to balance the budget. The parents of the majority of these children live at a subsistence level, doing daily labouring jobs in the fisheries which are predominant in this area of West Bengal, or in the paddy fields.

Mr Naskar is scrupulous in following the National Curriculum, which means that the children study between 10 – 12 subjects depending on their age. Each subject has an exercise book and sometimes a text book which can be used as an exercise book for the student. We can see therefore the high cost of books for the school each year, when the majority of parents are paying a minimal amount, for schooling, the equivalent of £1.60 a month.

What a contrast to our schools where the exercise books are handed out without any thought of where the money has come from for them?

Wouldn’t you like to help Mr Naskar educate the first generation of highly literate adults in this village?

New exercise books!
New exercise books!
Sorting new books in time for school to start
Sorting new books in time for school to start
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I have recently returned from the New Life Centre School in Sarberia, West Bengal. We celebrated Childrens Day in the first week we were there which is a National event in Indian schools.  India celebrates Children’s Day every 14th of November each year. This special day commemorates the birthday of Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru who was the first ever Prime Minister of India and raises awareness of the rights, education and care of children. During his term, Pundit Nehru worked greatly for the educational rights of children for which he was called the Chacha (Uncle) Nehru. Before Nehru’s Death, India celebrated Children’s Day every 20th of November as declared by the United Nations. After his death in 1964, a resolution was passed to move the celebration to the 14th of November in order to honour Nehru and his advocacy for children’s rights.

In the NLC school Childrens Day consisted of fun and games and a meal paid for by the staff and Alindra and cooked by them! Considering there are over 400 children this was no small feat!

A parachute was donated which we took out with us and this proved to be a highlight on this day as it did throughout the visit. The joy on the children’s faces was a delight to see.

The children gave us gifts of homemade cards and candles, and the staff bought us presents this time of coffee mugs. They have so little in terms of material goods but they want to share whatever they can with you.

I have put up the cards in my home as part of my Christmas decorations to remind me of what this time of year is really about; the celebration of a child, innocent, pure and joyful, as we experienced on the 14th November in the New Life Centre School.

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HANDS AROUND THE WORLD

Location: MONMOUTH, MONMOUTHSHIRE - United Kingdom
Website:
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Project Leader:
Bridget Higginson
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom
$17,508 raised of $29,880 goal
 
92 donations
$12,372 to go
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