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

Tiasha Banerjee, a representative from GlobalGiving, has visited the New Life Centre recently and reported on "...the inspiring work that you all (Alindra Naskar, the Director of the school and the staff) are doing. I was overwhelmed by your hospitality."

It is heart-warming to have the work recognised and valued.

Once again my visit to the school this year was a mixture of joy and frustration; joy at seeing the children grow and prosper in this excellent school, but frustration at the difficulties Alindra faces, in this disadvantaged area of West Bengal.

The children who go to this school have very different lives to the children in a school in the UK. Their parents mostly live at subsistence level, their fathers in jobs as daily labourers, mothers at home looking after the children. Homes are made of mud, brick and thatch and daily existence would seem basic to young people in the west.

And yet, children are the same the world over, as this photo (above) shows. When I asked these teenagers to get closer together for the photo they fell about giggling at the thought that the girls would have to move closer to the boys! The middle boy was having none of it as you can see.

My life has been enriched by my visits to this school as I witness how people manage on so little and yet remain joyful and childlike in their delight. The staff at the school are incredibly hospitable as the GlobalGiving representative commented, not only with their material goods but their time.

On my last day I was delayed on an errand and was dismayed to think that I hadn’t said goodbye to them, some of whom I have known for 10 years now. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the school an hour and a half after the school finished to see that they were all waiting patiently to say goodbye and have some photos taken. The male staff were wearing the Charity’s polo shirts we had taken out with us (below).

Wouldn’t you like your life to be enriched by such contact?

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Children at the New Life Centre
Children at the New Life Centre

I joined Hands Around The World in August last year and have been learning about all the projects from a distance. So I was thrilled when the opportunity came up to visit the New Life Centre in Sarberia recently. I last went to India during my gap year in 2000, where I taught English at another village school in West Bengal, and as I stood listening to the children singing the Indian national anthem in morning assembly, the memories came flooding back.

I was welcomed with great warmth and enthusiasm during my stay. The children greeted me with big smiles and “hello Auntie, good morning Auntie” and our host, founder and centre director, Alindra Naskar (below), kept us entertained with stories from his fascinating life, which he has dedicated to helping those in need,

“I worked with Mother Theresa in the slums of Calcutta and from there I went to work with the Leprosy Mission for 34 years and later I started the New Life Centre. I found that my village is so much trailing behind and there is so much darkness of education and many children are growing up without any purpose in life. So I sold up everything I had and used the money to start the New Life Centre.”

Sarberia doesn’t benefit from the interventions of the many NGOs operating in neighbouring Kolkata and like many places in rural India remains a neglected and underpriveliged village. The NLC opens its doors to the less fortunate children in the community and has grown from supporting 39 children when it opened in 2005 to over 500 today.

Although the centre’s primary objective is to provide a quality education for children in Sarberia, it quickly became apparent that it is also a place where people at risk can go and ask for help. They will be welcomed and helped if at all possible. For example, on our first day we met Manu (below, front row, far right in blue)…

At just 21 years old, Manu has experienced a lot of trauma in her life and is vulnerable as a single mother with limited support. When she came to the NLC for help, her son aged 6 was enrolled immediately and all his books and uniform were provided. She is now employed in a part time capacity to care for the younger children and to do some cleaning and general duties. Joining the NLC has opened up new opportunities and hope for the future for both Manu and her son.

Another example, is the story of Sauvic B (below), who joined the NLC in kindergarten and is now in his final year. His mother first came to the NLC in great distress as she was suffering from terminal cancer and was so worried about what would happen to her son when she died. Alindra made her a promise that he would make sure her son was taken care of, that he would finish school and come up in life and so she enrolled him in the NLC. Sauvic lives with his uncle and cousins. Alindra has always offered support as a mentor and talks to Sauvic about working hard and coming up in life and what his mother wanted for him. He will continue to act as mentor when Sauvic graduates from the NLC and moves on to senior secondary level at a local college. Sauvic has done well in school and in Alindra’s words, “his mother would be very proud of him.”

I admire the commitment and enthusiasm with which the children approach school and wonder at their achievements even when the odds are stacked against them.

For girls especially, it takes persverence and determination to make it through to grade 10 and beyond. There is a lot of pressure to marry as young as 14 or 15 years old. Some of those who left school early have returned to join the Vocational Training Programme. I enjoyed getting to know Manabika B (below) and the other women in the VTC, who are working towards a certificate in tailoring.

To date, 96 women have graduated from the programme and many of them have become self-employed and are now better able to support their families.

Thank you for supporting this inspiring project.

Mr Alindra Naskar
Mr Alindra Naskar
Manu in blue, at the front, far right
Manu in blue, at the front, far right
Sauvic B
Sauvic B
Manabika B
Manabika B
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It's report time, but as I am going out to the New Life Centre School later this week for a short visit, I will be in touch on my return with up-to-date photos and news.

The school is at the beginning of another academic year, so as you can see, a busy time for allocating new books. There have been a further 65 admissions so far this year. Its reputation is spreading and some children have come from other schools as the parents have heard great things about the NLC. There are now about 550 on the school roll.

I am going out with Bridget the new HATW Operations Manager to show her around, offer lots of encouragement and to acknowledge a job well done. Please watch this space!

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Whenever I visit the New Life Centre school my friend Alindra Naskar, the school’s founder, always takes me out walking around the local vicinity meeting the locals. This photo was taken on such a walk. Everyone is delighted to see us, whether they know Alindra or not, and they usually insist on us having a drink and some snacks with them. This lady as you can see has her hands full, but as usual we are greeted with smiles of welcome and everything else is put aside whilst chairs are brought out for us to sit on and refreshments served.

At these times I cannot help but compare what would happen in my local vicinity if Alindra visited me. Obviously the weather makes a huge difference to the lifestyle of the locals in West Bengal as they tend to spend most of their time outdoors and only really use their homes for sleeping in. Even cooking takes place outside as seen here.

But even if we were meeting neighbours here in the UK would they be so hospitable? What is it about this poor community that they want to share what little they have with you?

Unfortunately my life experience has taught me that generally the more people have the keener they are to hold on to it for themselves. The less people have, the more they seem willing to share it with others.

Alindra Naskar has taken this metaphor to heart and the education he received he wants to share with as many children as possible, which is why the New Life Centre school now has over 500 children. My son talked to me once about ‘Checking your privilege’, a phrase I hadn’t heard before. It seems an important phrase for our times when our society in the West seems more polarised than ever. What seems ironic is that the disadvantaged of this poor village in Bengal don’t ask it of themselves, as the answer would be too painful. And yet they still keep giving.

Wouldn’t you like to share your privilege with others?

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Some of the Older Schoolchildren
Some of the Older Schoolchildren

The parents of the children at the New Life Centre School have married young. When I was there last year I was told a typical story of the parents of one of the girls in the school. Her father saw her mother when she was in Standard 8, 13 – 14 years old and he told her he wanted to marry her. She refused for a long time as she wanted to continue her education, but he was persistent and eventually she dropped out of school and they were married at 15.

They are happily married but the mother is insistent that her daughter will remain in the school and not drop out like she did. Alindra Naskar the Director of the school, as a father of 3 highly educated daughters is very keen that the girls should remain in school, as they are the future of the country he says, as mothers they will educate their families and lead by example. Education will literally save lives for according to the United Nations Girls Education Initiative, children of educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of five!

The older girls in the school can be seen here and they are given every encouragement at the New Life Centre to carry on with their studies, including remaining at the school for extra curricular studies until the parents are able to escort the girls home. Parents are afraid of their young daughters wandering around the village, as girls have been known to be kidnapped from this area as it is close to the Bangladesh border, but also with Alindra’s encouragement and the understanding of mothers such as the one I spoke of at the beginning of this, parents are becoming enlightened to the prospect of their daughters having choices about their future.

As Barack Obama said when addressing the UN Assembly in 2012, ‘The future …………must be shaped by girls who go to school and those who stand for a world where our daughters can live their dreams, just like our sons’.

Wouldn’t you like to help empower these girls?

 

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Organization Information

HANDS AROUND THE WORLD

Location: MONMOUTH, MONMOUTHSHIRE - United Kingdom
Website:
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Project Leader:
Bridget Higginson
Monmouth, Monmouthshire United Kingdom
$17,553 raised of $29,880 goal
 
93 donations
$12,327 to go
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