As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaks havoc on the world, stories of frontline warriors who have gone above and beyond to bring hope in this time of crisis come to light. One such warrior in the field of education is Kalyan Mankoti.
Hailing from Aso village in the Bageshwar district of Uttarakhand, Kalyan used to travel for hours, covering 35 kilometres—from Almora town to teach at a junior school in Chanoli village—every day. When the pandemic struck the country, Kalyan moved from Almora town to Chanoli Village with his daughter, leaving behind his comfortable life in the town, all to continue his commitment to teaching.
He wanted to bring education to the doorstep of 75 students.
His decision to relocate from Almora town to Chanoli village was not an easy one. His travel was completely restricted due to COVID protocols, inviting probing from the police. But his sincerity and ardor to help his students continue their education during the lockdown, convinced the authorities to cooperate with him.
Kalyan had to complete various paperwork and consult with the District Magistrate. The health department was also contacted and, at the same time, took the society under trust. Even the education department was made aware of his initiative. With proper facilities for masks, medicine, and sanitisation, he embarked on his journey to make proper education accessible to students during the pandemic. Following SOPs related to COVID-19, he began teaching a small group of students.
The exercise of learning, studying and comprehending were taken up in a field near the jungle.
The weather was another obstacle that Kalyan had to overcome. While sharing his experience, he says, “Once on a rainy day, it became difficult to hold classes in the wet field. There was this huge empty house with a stone roof attached to the road. Soon after the rain stopped, the children sat on that roof and started studying. Ever since, the roof has become our classroom whenever it rains.” He adds that when the owner of the house became aware of how his house roof is serving as a classroom, he was more than happy to assist them.
Kalyan mobilised people to help him in his initiative. Along with his daughter, he is also assisted by his old students who are currently pursuing different courses in the university. Some of them are from the Chanoli village, whereas the rest take turns to come and live in the village for a couple of days. The children are helped with Science, Languages, Social Science, Music, etc, along with classes on singing, and paper and mud art. Himani, one of the oldest students of Kalyan, has also taught the students about plants and vegetation while conducting various amusing scientific experiments and fun games.
Along with Himani, Bhuvan Kandpal, Gargi, Riya, Bhupender, Ojaswi, Anurag, Sachin, Saurabh, Deepa, Pushpa have also diligently contributed to Kalyan’s initiative of educating the children. Even the village elders have their part in interacting with the students and helping with their holistic education. Revti Devi informed the children through her tales on how to present themselves in public and Tara Devi shared with the children the recipes for different mountain dishes. On the other hand, Bhupal Singh, another resident of the village, educated the children about the milk business and how to use a lactometer.
“The children are also being taught how to start a small business using the dairy products and vegetables grown in the village. Bhupal Singh says this initiative provided them with an opportunity to understand the children closely,” shares Kalyan.
Kalyan’s initiative is now a symbol of integrity, bringing different individuals together for a common goal. The children learn a lot from one another. The group comprises children from government and non-government schools. Those who had forgotten their native language, Kumaoni, are now able to converse in it. Children not only get their usual lessons but also engage in extensive conversation with the people of the village, gathering additional information on a variety of topics. They learn local recipes, sing old forgotten folk songs, and learn about the nearby vegetation and medicinal plants. This model exemplifies how much the community can contribute to the holistic education of children.
“I have started to receive a lot of positive responses from people. Moreover, teachers from Rishikesh, Pauri, Nainital, to name a few, have started adopting this model in their respective areas,” says Kalyan, who is delighted about his successful undertaking.
Various COVID-19 awareness campaigns are also being carried out in the village by Kalyan. Discussions are taking place, hoardings and banners are being installed. Small groups of people are delivering various information to individual households through songs and street plays in accordance with Covid protocols.
The arrangement of the afternoon meal continued for the children with the help of Bhojan Mata, community members and teachers. Each household provides cereal and vegetables. Even during these delicate and sensitive times, Kalyan kept the flame for education lit with the help of the villagers.
“It is fulfilling to see how students now carry their textbooks and favourite story books while they go out to graze their cattle. I am content they did not grow apart from education during these critical times; in fact, they became more attuned to it,” concludes Kalyan.
Read this story in Hindi here.
(Written by Vipin Joshi; Edited by Yoshita Rao)