SAMPARC was set up in 1990 by Mr. Amitkumar Banerjee. His background indicates that he was always inclined towards social work. After doing his M. Phil in Social Work, he got a MS in Rural Development from the Xavier’s Institute of Social Science in Ranchi. During one of his first social work stints, in 1978, he headed a rehabilitation program for flood victims in 45 of the worst affected villages in West Bengal. After another stint with farmers of the Bhoodan movement in Bihar, he was the Director of SOS Children’s Villages in Lonavala between 1984 and 1990. Under his leadership, SOS Children’s Village in Lonavala grew from housing 36 to 100 children. During his tenure, he also organized an educational support program for 200 children whose parents work at stone quarries and construction sites. It was also this tenure that shaped his thinking for years to come and ultimately lead to him to setting up SAMPARC, along with a colleague Smt. Lata Pande.
The SOS stint was the first time he got to work whole heartedly with children. It also introduced him to the villages in and around the tourist-famous Lonavala. Over the years, his relationship with the villagers in these areas only deepened. Not only did his understanding of the area better, but they recognized him as someone who could help them out. A collective request from their end thus led to the setting up of the Bhambarde school. He says, “The state of education in rural India is pretty sad. Although the government strives to impart compulsory education to all children below 12 years, thousands are deprived of even elementary education. Even today, because of the lack of schools, toilets in schools and poor transportation, poor and tribal children in villages do not get an education. This is why we set up this school and hostel. In fact, the villagers asked for the same.”
The school caters to children from 17 villages in and around Bhambarde. In addition to the children from the villages, there are also orphans, who live on campus. The school is quite rurally located; with a waterfall on one side of the property, and a giant hill on the other. You can’t help but wonder about how he singled out the property where the school stands. Which is when he revealed that back in early-90s, when he was on the hunt for a convenient location, he followed the only possible tracks through the greenery of the hills and voila! Of course, it did take him three years and several treks to get to the same. Today, there is a decently treaded road (note, this is not a pucca road) to the school. With the local State-transport bus passing through (just twice a day!) this route, it makes it (somewhat) conveniently accessible to the 17 villages it is meant to cater to. Ask Mr. Amit Banerjee about the early days and he says, “The sole purpose of setting up this school was to educate poor tribal children in Mulshi Taluka up to Std. X. In the initial stages, it was very difficult to convince and persuade illiterate farmers to send their wards to school. In this hilly terrain, getting an education is of little significance. Counselling and creating awareness among the villagers, enabled us to win their confidence and trust.”
The weekend we spent with Mr. Amit Banerjee and his team was truly a memorable one. It is really amazing to see the respect he gets no matter where he goes. Not just in his schools and orphanages but in the area too – from restaurants and stores. I guess it comes as no surprise given that he has dedicated 25 years to help the people in these districts!