Siba Sankar, the founder of Subuj Sangha, was born and brought up in the Sunderbans. Living in a joint family, sharing and giving to people around him comes naturally to him. After his graduation in Zoology from City College in Calcutta, he moved back to his village and started to teach in the nearby school. This was in the early fifties.
The Sunderbans are known to be one of the remotest islands of West Bengal, because of which conditions of underdevelopment are rampant – lack of clean drinking water, no roads, extreme poverty and little to no awareness of education and health. He noticed that these conditions were leading to increased migration to the cities.
“I always wanted young people to be involved in something productive rather than while away their time in the village. Which is why I started a sporting club, which engaged them in sports and volunteering activities,” he says. Whenever there were disasters or medical emergencies, it was difficult for the villagers to send victims to the cities. Due to bad roads and lack of conveyance, these volunteers would help out during such medical emergencies.
This volunteering club has produced a jewel who is the backbone of Sabuj Sangha today. “Anshuman Das was a brilliant student though he had a traumatic childhood. One day, he approached me and asked how he could take his volunteering to another level and contribute to the bigger cause – developing the village and making it livable. I was really pleased. He asked me to stay on and be his support. In 1964, we formally started the organization. The primary work was to build roads with funds which were procured by donations and my savings. The organization wasn’t yet registered but work had begun,” he adds.
“My mother passed away while giving birth to me. There were no doctors nor good roads to take her to the hospital then. This personal incident has always been at the back of my mind. And for a long time now, I’ve had the desire to help women and children in the village through a formal setup, “ adds Anshuman Das, who is the director of Sabuj Sangha.
In 1954, the seed was sown for the foundation and in 1975, it acquired FCRA registration. Sabuj means symbol of youth in Bengali and Sangha means association.
In 1978, a major flood devastated the entire Sundarban island. This led to a loss of homes and lives, and pushed migration to a larger scale. This had an impact on the children of the island. Villagers were migrating, enrolling themselves as daily wage labourers or domestic workers children were left unsupervised, many times along railway tracks, where their parents worked.
Siba Sankar then had the idea of starting an education center for these kids and providing them with a good education, nutritious food and extra-curricular activities. Sabuj College, based in Nandakumarpur, serves these kids as a model school. 26 children from various backgrounds (farmers, laborers etc.) are brought to the residential school.
“It is not easy to get these kids to attend school. We have to go their hometown, motivate their parents by explaining the importance of an education,” adds Anshuman.
The organization has also set up centers across coastal areas of Kolkata, which are below the poverty line. These centers serve as coaching centers, called Sabuj Kunri, for the children who go to school and are given assistance with their class and homework.
Not just kids, but with a vision to reach the unreached, the organization has set up a healthcare center which attends to pregnant women – assisting them with delivery, providing nutrition and complete baby care.
The healthcare unit is 20 bedded and consists of a Radiology department where scans of pregnant women are done, a Pharmacy where medicines are given, and rooms where these women are admitted few days before and after pregnancy. It also consists of a doctor’s quarters. All women are provided services for free through donations. Hundreds of women have benefitted and now word has spread in a way that women themselves get admitted without a health worker.
With a vision to secure a society where all people enjoy equal rights and access to equal opportunities, Sabuj Sangha has impacted all the three islands surrounding Kolkata.