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On a bright sunny afternoon, a hostel student was singing a folk song in Mishing language in high pitch while another was playing the dhol. Others around them were enjoying music on laidback Sunday after having food at the hostel behind the beautiful Bamboo entrance in the school premises. A group of four girl students was practising football on grass beyond.
70 students who stay in the hostel of Hummingbird School in Kulamua village of Majuli district of Assam were utilising the music skills they are taught in the school. The school started by Bipin Dhane, a graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur in 2017, has over 240 students who are mostly from Mishing tribe.
Majuli district spread on 352 square km is the biggest river island in the world. The Brahmaputra from the south and Kherkutia Zuti and Subansiri from the north, border the district. Every year, the area suffers from floods for a few weeks to 3-4 months depending on the land.
"Apart from music, kids are taught skills of fishing, bamboo weaving, agriculture and piggery, the local livelihood options. Teaching these skills proved helpful as we could gain the trust of kids and they became interactive. That helped us to teach them other subjects," Bipin tells The Logical Indian.
Bipin, who was satisfied with a high paying corporate job in Singapore, was in search to get into education and he came to know about backward district Majuli where his friend was teaching. He began to teach in one government school and was on a visit to this remote Kulamua village.
He tells, "Villagers requested me to begin a school and I could not refuse. Villagers provided bamboo, bricks and volunteering to build a school. We started with 70 kids in January 2017. Currently, the school has over 240 kids and 70 stays in a hostel."
In 2019, a hostel and classrooms that are made up of bamboo got damaged due to three floods. Bipin says, "as soon as the flood comes, we have to shift school equipments to stilted platforms and then get it down. The school has to be closed for two months during flood season."
Showcasing a library and adjoining computer room that are on the first floor of a two-storey building of bamboo, another engineer who has begun teaching here this year, Aniket Chavan, tells, "Computers and projectors are run on solar power as electricity can go off anytime. We show movies to kids, some topics are taught through a projector. Kids can come to the library anytime."
In front of class VI that is an open classroom on a stilted bamboo floor and one has to climb 5-6 steps of a bamboo staircase, kids were playing. Zina Doley, class VI student, voluntarily, came forward to ask me questions and later shared that she wants to make a career in dancing. She tells in fluent English, "I want to make a career in singing and dancing. And I don't want to think whether I am the best in the field or not. I just want to enjoy what I do."
Before 2017, kids here were enrolled in government schools for namesake and would not know maths, science or English. Today every student communicate with outsiders in English.
Many kids were relishing traditional meal of rice and vegetable curry at open space near the kitchen that is again made up of bamboo and also washing their dishes with water at a hand pump behind the kitchen.
Aniket showed fish pond near hand pump. He tells, "all fish died a few months back and we were confused why it would happen. Later, we realised water mixed with shampoo from girls washroom was also connected to this pond. The chemicals harmed fish. There cannot be a better way of education."
Rupjyoti Doley, class VI student, washed the dish she had with water from hand pump behind the kitchen and told that she loves the school as teachers are friends. Rupjyoti who aspires to become a singer and learns to play the harmonium, says, "All students here are like siblings. We love each other and hardly fight."
A few kids who were playing musical instruments at a sofa at the campus while others were busy talking with Bipin. Devprotin Doley, class II student whose parents work at the school, wants to become Kung Fu expert after growing up. And meanwhile, he is happy with learning science and maths.
Till 2018, Kulamua was cut off from Garmur, the headquarters on Majuli 5-6 km away. District collector visited the school a couple of times and began developing the road.
Bipin tells, "Assam government asked me to start such school at other parts of the state but that was not possible. So this school is being taken as a model school and we provide training to teachers and education experts based on our learning here to 50 government schools in Majuli. The plan is to do it for 600 schools in Assam."
People in the village also suffer lots of losses after floods every year and hence the school has begun a project to develop livelihood training. Ranjit Doley, a local tribal, who looks after weaving section tells, "women of Mishing tribe are excellent weavers and we ask them to make shawls, saris and towels. We give basic training and ask them to give set of shawls or towels based on the orders we get. Currently, we put our production at various exhibition across the state."
The school also arrange medical camp for mental health check-ups. Bipin tells, "There are no health facilities nearby. We are searching for partners who can avail healthcare. Currently, we get help with mental health care and hence we began this facility."
Currently, they are building classrooms on elevated platforms so that floods would not damage the school.
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