Located in the distance of 20 kms from where I stayed in central Kolkata, the drive to Towards Future at Dum Dum Park was definitely an experience.
A complete contrast to the concrete forest of central Kolkata, this place is rich in greenery, and is well-decorated with street art and ancient buildings. My car halted at one of the ancient buildings. As I walked upstairs, I was welcomed by three dynamic ladies. One was Supriya herself, and the other two were staff members.
There was one room divided for various purposes – accounts, admin and so on. The old building which was standing sturdy and strong with modern equipment; a parallel can somehow be drawn to the work the organization does – an old organization but very modern in their approach in reaching out to the needy.
We then headed towards Kalikapur, where their project Shishumon started. Shishumon is a pre-primary kids’ project in which kids from the age of 3 years are enrolled. The center also hosts primary kids, and educates all children from the 1st to the 4th standard, after which they are referred to high schools.
The murals on the walls, craft work on the ceiling, art from the leaves and other decorative items made from waste by these kids are definitely a treat to the eyes. Their imagination spoke to me when I saw the painting of an ocean with waves and sea animals dancing in it. “The kids are just given a name – like ocean, car or cat, for example. They are asked to draw what comes to their minds. This way, we bring out their hidden talents,” says Supriya.
“The kids are also given a cooking day once a week, during which they must make some dish. For example, they would be asked to make lime water, for which they need to measure the right quantities of sugar and salt. This teaches them basic Math,” she adds.
The organization feels that if a person is able to express confidently in his or her own language, then he or she would come out with flying colors and wouldn’t have to fight much for survival. “This is why we inculcated Bengali into the syllabus for this reason. We teach them the basics of Bengali,” says Supriya.
To concentrate on the holistic development of the child, they even provide nutrition to the kids after school. “My daughter was weak and restless. We came to know about the center in the area, and I enrolled my kid in it. With the nutrition they provide, she has become stable, and her health is a lot better than before,” explains Susmita Naskar’s mother. Susmita is five years old, and is in the primary section of the school. She scores an “A” grade in all the subjects, and has a warm smile.
We then drove a little into the interior of the neighbourhood, and halted at a house with a thatched roof and a door. We found a lady in front of the house in her late thirties cutting mangoes. As she saw us, she immediately greeted us and rushed inside to get chairs. Her daughter, Riya Das, is one of the brightest students of the center. I could not agree more after I interacted with Riya herself, who told me she wants to be a doctor in the future. When I asked why she wanted to be a doctor, she replied with an innocent smile, “To help people in my village when they fall sick.”
We then tasted fresh mangoes at her house, while her mother packed us a bag full of them. I was moved to see their giving nature irrespective of the day-to-day challenges they face.
“More than teaching, I learn a lot. Students teach me how to draw using the simplest method, how to paint, and so on. They opened me up, and taught me teamwork. They help each other when some issue arises, and watching such things is a learning in itself,” adds Bivas Naskar, who is a teacher at Kalikapur.
Teachers at the center are required have a basic qualification of having passed the 12th standard. They are then sent for a teacher training program, and assessed every quarter.
“Most of my staff are my own students when I used to work in other organizations. One of my teachers is a student of the spoken English class. She was very intelligent and committed. Due to her illness, she discontinued her work. After she recovered, we offered her a position to work as a teacher in the center. Without a second thought she consented. Our community worker was also a beneficiary of a previous organization that I worked in. He now earns well with us, and has changed as a person too,” adds Supriya.
When asked what her inspiration is, she says, “Kids, and their enthusiasm to learn. Kids have good memory, they grasp things far quicker than expected. This is a learning for me too. They make me flexible and open. There is nothing like spending time with these kids.”
Towards Foundation operates across 15 villages in and around Kolkata, serving hundreds of kids across the villages. They also run shelters for children of migrant laborers, and teach them for a few months.