Amlasole, a tribal village on the border of Jharkhand and Bengal might come to memory from the reports of starvation deaths in 2004-05.The people here have been forest dwellers since time immemorial. In the past, the forest was sufficient to meet their needs. With the advent of modernity, most forests were destroyed and fences created around what remained, to make national parks. The people who used to solely depend on forests, got left behind, and their skill-sets, such as weaving and hunting, became outdated for this modern world.
AID partner, Dr. Arup Roy, a retired professor of Physics from Scottish Church College, Calcutta,
has been working tirelessly here, to grow awareness, education and self-sustenance among the people. He founded Bayawang (‘breaking boundaries’), a primary school for children with an aim to provide basic education. The school only teaches Mathematics, English and Bengali, which according to Dr. Roy, is more than what one needs in their primary education. Dr. Roy and his friends have also built a hostel for children whose parents cannot afford their expenses.
Morning lesson of Mahabharata for students with Dr. Roy and fellow teachers in school
Amlasole is located in the foothills of Lakhaishini hill. The terrain is not at all suitable for large scale cultivation of crops. It takes tremendous effort to break the tough soil and make it appropriate for agriculture. Though the average rainfall is good, rainwater flows down the slope carrying the soil with it. This coupled with deforestation has resulted in almost no avenue to store rainwater for use. With the help of some friends, Dr. Roy planned for a watershed in this place. Subsequently, 30-40 holes were dug along the slopes. Now, these holes fill up with rainwater, which then seeps in and inundates the fields at the bottom of the hill.
My visit to the school was humbling. We tend to forget that education is a privilege, unfortunately. For these students, attending school everyday, learning new things and playing with classmates is an important aspect of life. A simple slate-pencil is more precious than state-of-the-art gadgets.
When I started writing this, it was Independence week in the country. One could see markets filled with flags and lengthy Whatsapp messages celebrating independence. I couldn’t help but wonder if this definition of independence was inclusive of the children of Amlasole. To them independence lies in the midday meal, which they eagerly look forward to: rice, lentils, vegetables, with an occasional serving of fish or meat, that frees those starving stomachs of hunger.
– Saikat Mukherjee is a PhD Student at Virginia Tech and volunteers for AID Blacksburg chapter.