Originating from Pamuhi village in Kamrup district in Assam, life was carefree and aimless just two decades ago. He would spend days walking around the village with his friends. Occasionally, he would collect firewood and sell it. But a turning point in his life came when he discovered children playing with water and mud during one of his trips.

“These kids should be in school,” Uttam thought.

“I saw the life they were living as detached from the mainstream, so I asked their parents to send these kids to my house. I turned the cowshed in my house into a classroom and started teaching them for free. My mother was cooking for these kids,” the 47-year-old recalls.

The non-profit school “Parijat Academy” was established in the year 2003.

With only four children, 800 rupees in his pocket, and a cowshed with bamboo walls for a semester, Uttam set up a non-profit school ‘Parijat Academy’ in 2003. Today, the school provides education to nearly 400 children with the help of 22 trained teachers.

The school is named after Parijat Flower – an indication of the innocence and sensitivity of children, who need to be raised to be better people.

Backbencher for the teacher

The undergraduate graduate was influenced by many career choices, but becoming a teacher was not his primary choice. Uttam, who was an adjunct member of his class, says, “I tried my hand at learning yoga, and I wanted to excel in dancing like Mithun. And and govinda. But nothing really worked. Teaching seemed like a boring job to me, but that incident made me quit being a teacher.”

The school is named after the flower of Alparijat - a reference to the children's innocence and sensitivity.
The school is named after Parijat Flower – an indication of children’s innocence and sensitivity.

After the word of free education spread, more and more parents started sending their children to Uttam School. Now, children from 20 villages – Pamuhi, Magwapara, Maina Khurong, Ulupari, Galuk Baham etc. come to benefit from free education. Children from remote villages on the Assam-Meghalaya border are now being provided with accommodation facilities in the hostel, which has a capacity of 60 people.

When I started this school, I thought that it would last for 2-3 years, and that I would enroll children in public schools. But when I saw the faith of parents from lower-income groups, I felt responsible and started opening more classes instead,” says Uttam.

The school is affiliated to the Assam State Council and provides education for children from Nursery to Class X. The school is built on an ancestral property of 20,000 square feet and contains a library, skills development centers and a computer lab.

Students having lunch at Parijat Academy.
Students having lunch at Parijat Academy.

Refine the skills of the underprivileged

Apart from providing formal education – Assamese, Hindi, English, Social Sciences and Mathematics – to children, the institute teaches various crafts to develop the skills of underprivileged children. For example, they are trained to learn computer, sewing, sports and dance.

“We focus on developing skills so that they are trained for livelihood opportunities. We teach our students agricultural and computer skills. Moreover, we have handlooms in our learning center and we teach weaving to our students from the eighth grade. They also learn cotton and silk making. sari and shawls using hand looms,” Uttam says.

He continues, “Our female students sew reusable cloth sanitary pads, which helps them to earn income from people who do not have access to sanitary pads. We also make boys aware of menstruation.”

The school teaches weaving to eighth graders.
The school teaches weaving to eighth graders.

Recreational activities including drama, survival boot camps, hiking excursions, and skills development classes make Uttam Academy a popular choice for children over government schools in the area. Our children have gone to places like Mohali, Goa, Jhansi and Puducherry for school programmes. They find these programs fun and interesting,” says Ottam.

Manju Bongjang, who hails from Garbhanga Ulubari Village, studied at Uttam School from Class 2 to Class 10. Belonging to a poor farmer family, Manju lives in Parijat Academy hostel with her younger brother, who is also studying in the same school in Class 9. Apart from Learning Assamese, geography, logic and English, I learned sewing and weaving at the school’s skills centre.

“The education system is good here and the atmosphere is also good. In my spare time, I also make sanitary napkins out of clothes, which helps me earn income besides studying,” says Manju, who manages to earn around INR 1,000 per month. After getting 66 per cent in the board examination, the now 17-year-old has enrolled in a junior college in Guwahati. She aspires to become a teacher like her mentor.

Not an easy path

The academy has become popular with volunteers coming from all over India and abroad to help children in various activities like painting, sports, arts and crafts, and yoga. Otam receives assistance from individuals as well as organizations to run the school.

But the task was not easy.

“I keep emailing institutions and organizations. Out of the 100 emails I send, I get 2 or 3 responses. It takes about INR 400 per month for a child’s tuition. I keep looking for financial support as I need to manage school expenses and also give an honorary reward For teachers,” says Uttam.

“But now there is no turning back. I would like to increase the hostel accommodation facilities so that more underprivileged children from remote villages will study here in the new year.”

For his dedicated work, Uttam received the 2011 CNN IBN Real Heroes Award.
For his dedicated work, Uttam received the 2011 CNN IBN Real Heroes Award.

The educator collects pencils, old school bags, old books, clothes, blankets, sheets, computers and even green vegetables and rice from people to support the school.

For his selfless work, Uttam has received CNN IBN Real Heroes Award 2011, Karmayogi Award from Lions Club, East India Women’s Association Social Service Award 2009 and recognized by Rotary Club of Dispur in 2015.

“I have no selfish motive here; I am not making a profit from this. But this business gives me a million dollar happiness. If these disadvantaged children get an education, they can lead a decent life and secure the future of their next generation, and so on.”

To support the education of underprivileged children at Parijat Academy, contact here.

(Edited by Pranita Bhatt; All photos: Parijat Academy.)


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