"I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."
In Meghalaya’s remote Garo Hills district, education was no more than a distant reality. Schools had no paint on them and the classrooms were dilapidated. There were hardly any students and teachers were barely seen taking classes. All of this painted a dull, uninteresting picture.
But for Swapnil Tembe, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer serving as the sub-divisional officer (SDO) of Dadenggre civil subdivision, the schools could not be left as dead as they were. He was determined to create a new colourful picture out of the gloomy, depressing one.
A student of IIT Kharagpur, there was nothing more important than education for Swapnil. During his time at the Secretariat, he was a part of Union Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). Learning the nuances of the education policy that was being deliberated was a very good learning experience for Swapnil. He visited Rajasthan to observe how swiftly their education system was being improved.
“As an SDO in Dadenggre, I was most interested to take a look at the government schools. Education has always been my top priority, and when I saw the condition of the schools, I was devastated. They were dilapidated and broken. There was no paint on the wall and the entire picture was colourless. Sometimes even teachers did not come to the classes and there were hardly any students came who came with the intention of studying,” Swapnil said in a conversation with The Logical Indian.
Almost all schools in the district had two to three teachers, around 30-40 students and two to three classrooms. The buildings and classrooms were in such a terrible condition that an environment to study would be hard to create. Due to lack of space and teachers, students from all classes would be packed inside a single classroom.
“I had made up my mind to do something about it because nobody or no place can really go forward without education. We had already completed a project of making a Model Anganwadi centre by the time we finished visiting the schools in the subdivision.
With hundreds of Anganwadi centres in the place, it was not possible to upgrade all of them to Model Centres. So Swapnil decided to turn one of the schools to a Model Centre with the necessary resources and observe the reaction of the local people and children. If the reactions were positive, they would attempt to renovate more.
“Dilsigre Anganwadi Centre was the one that we started with since it was closer to the headquarters and would be easier to monitor. With our regular visits to other schools, teachers began coming to the classes and the situation began to improve,” Swapnil said.
A crowdfunding campaign initiated by Swapnil on Milaap.org did not get much response. Later, through some community participation approach was undertaken where meetings were held to communicate to the people how important the initiative was. People started contributing in whatever way they could, including some people from outside Meghalaya. Soon, the Dilsigre AWC was upgraded the way they wanted. Structures were repaired and painted, and a talented artist painted the entire structure beautifully. Toys for the kids, learning books and story books, cushions, carpet, water filter, containers for food storage and several other things were arranged.
On the inauguration day, the whole village was present. It was a moment of utmost bliss.
They had made up our minds to do the same for schools, and that is how the idea of ‘Adopt A School’ came into existence.
Under the guidance of their Deputy Commissioner Shri Ram Singh, IAS, the team began operating Project STAR (School Transformation by Augmenting Resources) to improve the domain of education. As part of the project, we decided to improve the infrastructure of the government schools. They took to crowdfunding and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
“Under Project Star, we have even built a library where several people have donated books. The children have grown up in an environment where they hardly learnt to read. A few students are coming to the library these days, and it is overwhelming to see how things are changing. I am certain that with time, more kids will take to reading. We also began career counselling where people from different professions would come up and narrate their journey to becoming what they are,” Swapnil said.
Around this time, he got to know that their Honorable Chief Minister Shri Conrad K Sangma donated his salary for the renovation of a school in Nongstoin.
“His gesture inspired me so much that I donated my two-month’s salary for the renovation of one school. During Diwali, an online crowdfunding campaign was initiated by me for the renovation of schools. With the help and contribution of several people, our project was successful and the school I had donated my salary for looked beautiful and fresh,” he said. He added that this is just the beginning and hundreds of such schools will have to renovate. “Education is the solution to everything. If you are educated and have a job and are able to stand on your own feet, there is nothing that can stop you,” he said.
The Logical Indian salutes Swapnil Tembe for his resolute effort and determination to bring about a change.
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