Friday, April 1, 2016

Volunteering at Parijat.

food bag to children

Parijat Academy – Giving Literacy to the Children of Assam

by Ted Schellenberg | Nov 30, 2015 | Project Stories |

Parijat Academy, one of the B1G1 Worthy Cause Partners, is bringing change to tribal villages in the Assam area of India by providing a free school for underprivileged children. The school was opened in 2003 with just 4 students in attendance, in a room near a cow shed with a tin roof, bamboo walls, and only two chairs and a bench to welcome them.
Surprisingly, parents in the area didn’t like to send their children to school because they thought education simply takes too long. They wouldn’t see any results in a short period of time, and couldn’t earn money through their children if they’re sitting in a school for months at a time. So initially, the parents in Pamohi were not much interested in this new ‘academy’.
But today that’s all changed. There are now 510 children attending Parijat Academy from 14 different tribal communities! It took some time to convince their parents, but now they too have become true believers in the value of a good education. There is great demand now for a place in the classroom, where the instructors do their utmost to make reading and writing a fun, rewarding experience. It’s a non-religious and non-profitable school providing free education.
Classes at Parijat Academy
Classes at Parijat Academy
Parijat Academy’s Founder and Principal Coordinator, Uttam Teron, told us about his approach to learning:
“We give quality education through activities that make learning joyful. Children generally don’t like a lot of reading and writing. They want fun, and through fun there is learning. We have classroom time, but we also organise nature treks, trips to different places, and we bring in volunteers to help us bring knowledge to life.”
Seven years before the Right to Education Bill was introduced in the Indian Parliament, Uttam was himself a young man from Pamohi. Back then, he dreamed of 100 per cent literacy for the children of his village. Education was the lowest priority in this hamlet though, and most children, especially girls, helped their parents in the fields.
International volunteers are now flowing to Parijat (meaning “heavenly flower”) Academy. Amy Partridge, a recently arrived American volunteer, is infusing new life to the school after coming to India from a similar project in Korea. She’s making learning a fun process, and the students love it.
“I really admire the mothers who defied the social norms to send their children to our school when it all started just a decade ago.” Amy said, “And I’m doing everything I can to make sure the children learn a great deal here.”
parijat_6There is no tuition fee for students at Parijat Academy; they provide free education to their students, with classes from the Kindergarten level to Grade 10.
Uttam Teron was given the CNN-IBN Real Hero Award for his work recently. The award and its profile have helped the school, but Parijat Academy remains heavily dependent on assistance from friends and well-wishers – and B1G1.

“It is very difficult being in one part of India, trying to convince people in other parts of the country to help.” Uttam Teron said. “We want 100 percent of our poor children to be educated. It will take 15 to 20 years to bring the desired change in this area. That’s a long term project, but we have made a wonderful beginning.”
Click on the images below to see some of the life-changing projects from Parijat Academy you can support as a B1G1: Business for Good Partner:
one set of stationary      school uniform      solar lantern


This is the story of an ordinary person doing the extraordinary, an unsung hero working in silence, blazing torches in the dark. This is the story of Uttam Teron. Born and brought up in Pamohi village of Assam, Uttam Teron belongs to the Karbi tribe. Uttam was just as ordinary as anyone. He still is.
“I would spend the day with friends playing football. I had a care-free life. My friends and I would go to a nearby forest, cut firewood and sell them in the market; there was no guidance from home regarding education and we did not understand the value of education much those days. Moreover, I wasn’t a good student. However, my mother was strict and wanted me to study,” Uttam recalls.

Answering his inner calling

But he had a calling. He loved to teach. He taught the village children whenever time permitted and noticed the children’s poor reading abilities. “They could not spell properly and some were even irregular in the government primary school. It was disheartening to see some even discontinue their studies.” Fate took a turn for Uttam thereafter. “It just struck my mind that I had to start a school for these underprivileged children free of cost at my home with limited children.”  
With the children at the AcademyBut money was a huge factor and his parents were not pleased with his idea. “There was no money!”Uttam laments. But this did not in any way deter him and Uttam strode ahead. With a paltry amount of Rs 800 which he gathered from his tuitions, he started Parijat Academy in 2003 with four children in his old cowshed with just a tin roof and bamboo wall,  a pair of desk and bench and one blackboard.
’Parijat’ means ’heavenly flower’ in Assamese. “My parents would remind me time and again then that such work would bring no money and repeatedly say, ‘Think twice before going long-term; do not trouble us or yourself’. They’d also remind me that had I worked at a private company, I could bring home money and help my parents”. But things changed for the better and Uttam’s parents realised their son’s dreams, his passion. “They began to feel positive about my work gradually.”

It was a steep climb

All was, however, not hunky-dory. Frustration would easily seep in and thoughts of giving up would haunt Uttam. “Increase in number of children means need for extra classrooms, furniture, teachers’ honorarium and so many other things. But I would get a grip of my patience and keep telling myself, ‘I cannot spoil these children’s futures; they have come to learn at Parijat Academy’.” Uttam would collect old books, notebooks, used furniture, old clothes, shoes and socks, used school bags, whatever useful he could find for the school children. “They act as bait because children love these little things and therefore, are regular in school,” he says.

With the children
With the Children at Parijat

Bearing fruit

Parijat Academy's annual function Parijat Utsav
Parijat Academy’s annual function Parijat Utsav

What started with just 4 children has today burgeoned to 540 students and 23 teachers at Parijat Academy. The school adheres to normal school timings and have classes from Nursery up to class 10 offering subjects like Assamese, Hindi, English, Mathematics, Science, Social Science and art work. Besides, programmes like computer learning, sewing lessons for girls, sports, dance and library are also offered. “We not only look after their education, but also ensure the children are nourished,” Uttam says while informing that milk is served to all Nursery students twice a week besides serving Mid Day meal for all the children. “We also give away food bags once a month for 25 children.”

It’s a rocky road

But the challenge of raising funds always creeps in. “If lucky, we receive donation from individuals sometimes. We also accept old clothes, old bed-sheets, old notebooks- half-written, half-good for our school children.” Uttam started a programme called ‘Support a Child’ via which an amount of Rs 300 is given per child for education. “We save this money and give to our teachers as salary as there is no regular income of the school.” The monthly expenses of the academy and staff salary is roughly Rs 60,000. “Sometimes I can’t pay them their salaries,” Uttam reiterates that fund raising is still the main constraint.

Milk is served to all Nursery students twice a week
Milk is served to all Nursery students twice a week

And he continues to tread

Uttam’s exceptional work is being recognised far and wide. Visitors like NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, who is also a colonel of the US Air Force, and volunteers from afar often visit the school to see its functioning. “Sometimes volunteers help contribute on children’s education and also support in making classrooms, sewing machines, computer systems, desks and benches, etc.” In 2011, Uttam was also awarded the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award for his contribution to society.

NASA astronaut Michael Fincke visits the Academy to see its functioning
NASA astronaut Michael Fincke visits the Academy to see its functioning

Uttam has educated 11 villages and plans to introduce classes 11 and 12 at the Academy. “I have no particular free time and play with my hostel children. I’ve recently brought 23 children from a remote forest village and am keeping them at the hostel.”

Sewing lessons for girls at the Academy
Sewing lessons for girls at the Academy

He dreams of achieving a 100 per cent literate village and he has achieved 98 per cent of it.“I am happy Parjiat Academy is creating awareness on education. When children come for admissions to the school, our teachers help in filling up the admission forms as most parents are illiterate. The parents now value education. Nothing satisfies me more than eradicating illiteracy and giving an education opportunity to every underprivileged child; it also reduces child labour,” the hero notes.
Uttam rightly concludes, “Education is a birth right. It can change a person’s life; it can change a village.”
NOTE: If you want to contribute towards Parijat Academy, you may do so by donating to the following mailing address:
Parijat Academy, Pamohi, P.O. Garchuk, Guwahati-781035, Assam.
(Used clothes, books, notebooks, toys, etc., also accepted).

Trekking to Garbhanga village, Kamrup, Assam

Computer education at Parijat

Parijat story in Deccan Herald

Harbinger of change in rural Assam


Uttam Teron with Karbi children at Pamohi village near Guwahati.
Volunteers from other countries come and impart skills to children

He believes in grassroots development and is leading by example. Uttam Teron, a young Karbi man, is the silent harbinger of change in rural education in the villages of Assam. The effort began in 2003 when Teron founded the Parijat Academy, a school for the severely deprived children.

Born to a train driver and a homemaker mother, Teron had a strong vision to see absolute literacy in his own as well as his neighbouring villages. Parijat academy started 13 years ago in a cow shed with just four children and hardly any facilities and a few books. But as a single teacher and having a vision to achieve absolute literacy, Teron had vowed to change the face of primary education in his village.

The academy now has full-fledged classrooms for about 600 underprivileged students who would have perhaps never accessed education. There are 23 teachers, most of them postgraduates. His unassuming demeanour, however, can barely indicate the grand ideas he is putting to action in primary education much to the delight of the Karbi communities of Assam. Karbis are one of the smaller tribal groups in the state, always at the margins of the widely diverse political discourse in Assam.

"Those days, we didn’t have any resources to start with. With borrowed books, furniture and blackboards, I started teaching a few students. And since then the number of students has grown,” Teron explains. Managing dropouts was a big challenge for Teron given the fact that the rural Karbi families were unwilling to recognise the need and value of education. Most of these children regularly did odd jobs and had to cut firewood for their homes. Making them realise the importance of education was a tough job.

From his childhood, Teron was deeply touched by the difficulties encountered by the poor to educate their children and with every passing day his resolve to ensure good education for the underprivileged, grew stronger.

"In a democracy, education is a pillar. It helps children to grow with ideas, wisdom and intellect. In a fast-paced world, it is perhaps the most necessary weapon, especially in remote areas with minimum exposure. In every sense education is a birthright of every child and lack of money should never be a limiting factor,” Teron says as he prepares to take the morning class at Pamohi village near Guwahati where Parijat Academy also has a new school building now.

At Parijat, students do not get just education but get a holistic development of mind, creativity, social skills and personality. "We have toured Goa, Puducherry and Mumbai for exposure visits,” Teron adds.

Today, Teron is a revered figure in Pamohi and the 10 neighbouring villages. The children in his academy are empowered with skills such as tailoring, crafting, carpentry, electrical skills, dance, yoga and music. There is a special emphasis on sports and the school is trying to build a women soccer team.

Moved by his efforts, several volunteers have come from the US, Europe, Canada and Australia and imparted special skills to the students. The volunteers stay in a guest house on the campus for several weeks and spend time with the children.

Teron believes that only books cannot lead to full-fledged education. The students are trained to be conscious social citizens who would value global issues like climate change, environment and wildlife protection. They are also trained to deal with social evils like poverty, witch-hunting and dowry. They are often taken to walkathons for environmental causes..

The journey was never rosy for Teron. And there was hardly anyone during those days to tell him the value of education. "But after completing my studies, I have realised its significance and effect on the mind and thought. My biggest dream is 100 % literacy and holistic development and by the grace of the almighty, I have achieved almost 95%.” Teron has been depending on goodwill donations but now has started "Support a child programme” where one can finance the education of a child for as low as Rs 300 a month.

Visitors like NASA astronaut Michael Fincke, who is also a colonel of the US Air Force, and volunteers from afar often visit the school to see its functioning. Teron’s exceptional work is being recognised far and wide. "Sometimes volunteers help contribute for children’s education and also support in making classrooms and buying sewing machines, computer systems, desks and benches, etc,” Teron added.

Teron has educated 11 villages and plans to introduce higher secondary level at the academy. "I have no free time. I’ve recently brought 23 children from a remote forest village and am keeping them at the hostel,” Teron said.

His school now has separate hostels for boys and girls. "Education is a birthright. It can change a person’s life; it can change a village,” he says.

Ratnadip Choudhury in Pamohi (Assam)
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Mid Day Meal program arranged by

Mid Day meal for the  children arranged by under the initiative of Nita Sairam Parmar.