“I don’t do this for money. I am doing this because my heart says so,” says the large-hearted Assamese man behind this unique academy.
Uttam Teron from Pamohi village in the Guwahati district of Assam started the Parijat Academy in 2003 with only Rs 800 in his pocket and a cow-shed for a classroom, where he taught four illiterate children for free.
Today, the academy is a full-fledged educational institute with 512 poverty-stricken children from Nursery to Class 10, allied with 20 teachers. Parijat, which means “heavenly flower” in the local lexicon, takes in underprivileged students from nine tribal villages namely Pamohi, Mahguapra, Deosutal, Garchuk, Mainakhorong, Dhalbama, Nowagaon, Garoghuli and Garbhanga.
Considering that he chose to educate underprivileged children at his academy for free, this is a remarkable achievement.
Instead of seeing children from his tribal-dominated village of Pamohi while away their time or work in the field all day, he wanted them to study. With little understanding of how school systems work, he began with the idea that classrooms should encourage a fun and positive learning environment.
In addition to learning English, Hindi and Assamese, he would ask the children to make toys of mud and clay. “Basic things are crucial for the kids. We can blend the minds in a different way if we teach them playfully,” Uttam told The Logical Indian.
Despite initial teething problems with tribal parents hesitating to send their children, Uttam soon convinced them of the value of a formal education. Buying stationery and basic teaching equipment was hard initially, and he had to borrow money from his parents, who couldn’t understand why he was teaching these kids for free and taking up all this burden.
“I don’t do this for money. I am doing this because my heart says so,” Uttam told The Logical Indian. Within two years, however, the academy grew to 32 children and locals began to pitch in. Things took a dramatic turn in 2005 when on a trip to Bodh Gaya, Uttam met a Japanese tourist, who taught him how to use email.
He wrote an email to a particular organisation seeking clothes, stationery and books for 32 children at his academy. In return, Uttam received books and clothes weighing 105 kg, besides a cheque of Rs 32,000 in his name. “I never expected this kind of help, and it was huge and unbelievable for me, and that’s what made my intention stronger. Soon enough, the school uniform was ready for the 32 kids,” he told the digital publication.
Soon, international organisations began pitching in with resources, and the local media caught hold of his initiative. In a state-based English daily, there were reports of how the 32 children in his academy needed help, and this opened the floodgates.
In 2011, he won the CNN-IBN Real Hero Award for his initiative. With help from other charitable organisations, the academy today has a library, offers computer classes, sewing lessons, sports and dance, among other facilities required for a holistic education. It also offers 60 students from distant villages free accommodation as well. Like any charitable institution, however, funds remain a concern. “Currently, we are looking out for hundred or fifty potential donors who can donate a sum of thousand rupees per month on a regular basis,” he says.
Find out more about Parijat Academy here on their Facebook page.