Tribal project lends a hand to India education aims

Thu Apr 15, 2010 1:31am EDT
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By Jo Winterbottom

SANTINIKETAN, India (Reuters Life!) - It's an ambitious plan -- giving all children under the age of 6 a free education among India's 1-billion plus population -- but at least one local initiative is making sure millions of tribal people with oral traditions don't get left behind.

In Santiniketan village in West Bengal -- the home of Nobel literature prize winner Rabindranath Tagore -- a voluntary initiative helping local Kora and Santhali tribal children to read and write Bengali is now so popular it needs a second building.

Bengali is the language used in local government schools and many tribal children cannot speak it when they start state school, putting them at a disadvantage and risk that they may fall behind from the start.

The Suchana project operates on a tight budget, using voluntary contributions, and last year, it had to cancel the annual picnic to ensure every rupee was spent for construction of its new three-room building.

This year, the picnic "has to happen, even if it's just rice and daal," says Jhuma Gonrai, one of the teachers.

Suchana hopes to add a second floor to the existing building and a separate structure with a clinic and more latrines -- giving more space for books, art and other learning materials.

Suchana's library has around 1,500 books and the children take one home regularly. There are also now six second-hand computers, given by friends and family, on which older children learn computer skills.

The project is currently working with about 115 children from the Santhal and Kora tribes. In this area in West Bengal, tribal people make up about 18 percent of the population.   Continued...