11th April, 2011: Thank you Team Help Tourism for being more active at Chuikhim Primary School. It started quite some years back with MCCS and Help Tourism forwarding some small support to the children at this almost unknown village of Chukhim for the past few years in form of providing copy books and pencils etc. Today, a team being led by Bhaskar, and assisted by Suhashini and Rajeshwari from Siliguri and RB, Manikumar and Puja from Chuikhim helped about 90 students from the primary school to ‘motivate expression through art and crafts’. The Guest of Honour was Ranajit Mitra.
This form of education was started in this region under the ‘East Himalaya Integrated Landscape Program’ of Help Tourism quite some years back to provide better learning to the students from remote areas, who hardly has any opportunity for interaction and results in school drop-outs. There are already a few successful models like Bali, Kolakham and Hee, which have been possible because of aggressive volunteering programs. Most of these areas are blessed with rich natural landscapes, which can only be preserved through dedicated local participation and interest. The major support came from Jayne Low of Jet Airways, Singapore, who has been the brain and motivator behind the ‘Singapore-East Himalaya Program’. Several Singapore based organizations have provided the major support to this program and it has been possible to take forward to the next step because of active volunteering programs from them.
Chuikhim, 55 kms from the bustling city of Siliguri, in an off-route towards Kalimpong via Bagrakot at a height of about 3000ft consists of families mostly below the poverty line. Recently, the village has been connected with regular electricity supply, but that remained out of service for the whole evening and night yesterday, and the morning with dry taps, these being some common crisis in basic amenities which the villagers live with. And to mention of no health facilities in the area, or any organization to show better agriculture opportunities is a major drawback. While interacting with the students, it was found that most students of Class 01 could not even write their names, while we know the standards in city schools, where students have to sit for admission tests to be admitted in Class 01. The standard of these village school students have to match that level of city schools through some voluntary initiatives, to confirm enlightenment in our villages.
End of last year, between December 25th and 31st, 2011, an adventure club from the Calcutta adjoining area, Angaan Chariye organized a nature study and adventure camp with almost 125 members which included camping on this school ground with children. Several senior campers stayed at the village homestays. This was like a festival at Chuikhim & Yelbong, the first of its kind in this area which has brought in lots of enthusiasm and interest in the villagers. The first exploratory ‘nature study and adventure camp’ was organized in a small way by MCCS.
The village students as they knew that they would have some event today came prepared in their best uniform, few provided to them through the previous program. Today too, the drawing, painting, paper cutting exercises all through the day was quite like a festival for the students from the primary school, who also received several gifts and prizes organized by Singapore and MCCS volunteers. This also included the distribution of summer and winter dresses from the ‘Garment Bank’, a part of which was donated by the ‘Camp Vision volunteers’, which the children took for themselves and their family members. A small part of the stock was also sent to Yelbong through RB, the community leader there. The exercise with the students, teachers and parents today were basically creating a ground for active volunteering, which would give an opportunity for the students of the school to be exposed to quality experience in the school and an opportunity for a better future.
The villagers who had observed that most of the drop-outs took place after Class 04, when the students had to go to faraway places to continue with middle school and high school, they took some initiative to create a middle school of Classes 05, 06, 07 and 08. The major problem was communication to any of the middle schools from Chuikhim. This local initiative has helped more students to get enrolled within a village school and also helped some of the drop-out students to be re-admit themselves to continue studies. The villagers want quality education for their children, but have realized that it was impossible to provide this until they found some active external support.
Also, a ground was set to start strawberry cultivation on an experimental basis from the post monsoon period, and plan to complete the cycle through making strawberry preserves at the village level itself. This short term harvest crop and finishing end products at the village itself may bring a better future for the villagers. This was an idea which was generated by Jayne to bring more meaningful livelihood villages in East Himalaya under the volunteering program.
The children who need a mention today for picking up well are Suman Subba, Bina Chettri and Krishna Gurung from Class 01; Samiksha Bhujel, Alisha Chetri and Shila Bhujel from Class 02; Anup Bhujel, Anuksha Bhujel and Roshan Chettri from Class 03; Sapoonil Subba, Arpan Khawas and Kiran Chettri from Class 04. They received prizes from the Guest of Honour. Also books and ‘First Aid Box’ from Singapore was handed over to the teachers as a common property of the school. It was also felt the land to the east would be needed for further development of the school and finally both the primary and middle school be part of a common compound. Also the villagers showed interest that they want to upgrade the middle school to secondary level (upto Class 10) and get it affiliated under CBSE (India’s national board for secondary and higher secondary education).