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Food and care bringing ‘tea garden children’ back to school

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Food and care bringing ‘tea garden children’ back to school

Most students, who earlier came to class empty stomach, now go to schools after having a complete breakfast at the Mission Education centre. This introduction of meals was planned not only to keep the children well-nourished, but also to keeps the attendance high at the centres and at schools.


Just being in Tripura, one the mountainous states in the northeast of India, fills me with fresh energy. I work with families and communities in the state who face day-to-day struggle as daily wage labourers.

Surrounded by lush green tea estates, and clean blue skies, popular with tourists, the state is also home to a large community of daily wagers who are struggling to make ends meet.


The daily life of the people of Adarani Tea Garden in Agartala, Tripura is nothing but a challenge. In plain words, it is a fight for survival.


I work as a regional programme manager for eastern states of India with Smile Foundation. Recently, I re-visited the schools in and around tea estates to understand and do an impact analysis of an education project we had introduced children of tea garden workers some years ago and went home happy. But three years ago, the story was a little different.


Perception and stigma creating barriers


I remember visiting a school in Agartala three years ago. I was perturbed to learn about the poor attendance by children from tea gardens. On deeper research, I found that the local teachers were largely prejudiced against the children from tea gardens and had made up their minds that these kids didn’t want to study.


One of the teachers also told me that that despite several efforts made by government and local private bodies to mainstream these kids, nothing seems to be working. All efforts to get these children to school have failed.


As part of the education project- Mission Education, we hired some local teachers from the community. I met with children and parents to understand their dilemmas and issues and asked them to come up with solutions.


Most labourers in tea gardens had migrated from different village areas of the state. While they wanted to educate their children, poor wages, distance of schools from tea estates, illiteracy among parents were reasons which had kept them away from attending regular schools.


After some discussion, I learnt that they did need a school, and there came an opportunity for me to open up a new Mission Education centre for me. Since these kids, almost 30 of them – all primary school level— had had fractured education we thought of starting a ‘remedial school’ for them in the tea estate itself.


With help from a local NGO named JUST, we opened the center in the tea garden itself and it has been running successfully in the locality for last three years.


So, this remedial centre which is supplement to the main school starts early morning before the actual school hours. The teachers at the remedial centre guide the kids, tutor them, give them extra personalized coaching to help them cope with regular school education.


Customised and contextual hand-holding


Our three years of learning shows that this daily connection through this Mission Education centre is also helping kids to remain in school education system. While their academics graph has shown betterment, attendance and behaviour towards education has also improved.


Most students, who earlier came to the centre with an empty stomach in the morning, now go to schools after having a complete breakfast at the centre. This introduction of meals was planned with a dual motive – to keep the children well nourished and happy and also to keep the attendance high at the centre and at schools. And yes, this strategy worked really well.


I came back really happy after my recent visit to the centre this month. While their behaviour towards school and education had changed for the good, they looked enthusiastic and hopeful about building a more promising future for themselves.


With a heart swelling with pride, and I can say for sure that it is this motivation that keep me going.  These happy kids, with a purpose, give me my strength and motivation to keep striving for the betterment of these communities.

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