He Started A Classroom In A Cowshed With Rs.800,Today He Teaches 500 Students For Free

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How often do we come across change makers who really want to bring a huge difference in the society? It is pretty evident there are only a few who foresee and get things done. Uttam Teron, an unsung personality from Pamohi, a tribal-dominated village in Guwahati, took upon himself to educate the illiterate and uneducated lot from the village.

There is nothing you cannot achieve when you have oodles of passion for a particular thing. This worked in the case of Uttam Teron. Teaching was his call and henceforth, in the year 2003 he set-up Parijat Academy at a cowshed with a mere sum of       Rs 800 and began with the first four children.

Basic education is very important in Parijat Academy 

Uttsam used to teach those children playfully which would arouse the curiosity in them. He asked kids to make toys with the help of mud and clay and made the classes enjoyable.

He worked on the basics of those little kids through songbooks and taught them basic Hindi, Assamese, and English lexicons within one hour of divided scheduled classes.

Parijat Academy

In the next three years, 32 more kids joined the academy because parents saw the kids improving at a faster rate. “Basic things are very important for the kids. We can blend the minds in a different way if we teach them playfully,” Uttam says in a hushed tone.

He says he chose the name ‘Parijat’ because the word means a beautiful flower that blooms in heaven and he believes children are like flowers; they can’t comprehend what’s good and bad. And academy was added later on to make the parents feel they were sending their children to an English medium school because that’s what made them elated.

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

Initially, Uttam had to beseech people for benches, pencils, old bags, and books for the children.Tribal parents are ignorant of their children’s education because they can’t afford even the very basic stationary items, says Uttam in a concerned tone. At first, the parents were very sceptical of sending their kids to the academy but his focus towards teaching the illiterates never turned him down.

Despite all the odds and ups and downs, the hurdles were still there. Uttam’s parents were not supportive. They always had this question as to why their son was doing all this for free. He recalls asking for money from his parents everytime he went to the market. He says he does not like teaching, but he started Parijat Academy because he couldn’t see the children wasting their time lazing around in the fields instead of studying. “I don’t do this for money. I am doing this because my hearts says so.” Uttam says this, sternly.

Experiences that made the intention stronger

It was until 2005 when Uttam Teron met a Japanese tourist on his trip to Bodhgaya and things suddenly revamped. From the tourist he learnt how to send emails and sent the first-ever mail to an organisation asking for second-hand clothes and books for the 32 kids.

Parijat Academy

“After a month I received a mail that said that the organisation has parcelled 105 kgs of books and clothes in the name of Parijat Academy and Rs 32,000 in my name. I never expected this kind of help and it was huge and unbelievable for me and that’s what made my intention stronger. Soon enough, the school uniform was ready for the 32 kids,” Uttam exclaims. In the next few days once again an organisation from Singapore donated crayons, drawing sheets, and books for the students.

The same year a photojournalist visited Parijat Academy and within the next few days Uttam was featured in the English daily from Assam that published the story under the headline, “Teron needs help for his 32 children”. People got in touch and started donating and this opened the closed doors for Uttam.

What Parijat Academy is today

The Academy has classes from Nursery to 10th-grade with total 512 indigent children and 20 plus teachers. Sixty students who are from the remotest area of the village where everyone is deprived of even basic requirements; they are given everything for free. The academy provides free accommodation to them because it’s not possible for them to walk all the way up to forty kilometres to attend the classes, shares Uttam. The academy also offers training on computers. There are library facilities, sewing lessons, sports, dance, and much more.

Parijat Academy

“What’s important for the students is skills,” Uttam says, “we even send our students to Nation youth festivals because that way they will see and learn new things and their mind will broaden.”

Today Sankar Bongjang the Garbhanga village boy has brought happiness to Parijat family. Sankar has got job appointment…

Posted by Parijat Academy on Friday, January 12, 2018

There are regular activities like inter-school girls and boys football and dance activities. Parijat Academy also organises trekking and outings for the students. Girls are taught sewing, ready-made garment making including awareness on menstrual hygiene and sanitation. Uttam’s family now supports him. His wife Aimoni Tumung has always been with him throughout these years of struggle and played a vital role in dusting off illiteracy.

NASA astronaut Michale Fincke visited the academy and lauded the noble and extraordinary work by Uttam Teron and now he’s a part of it. In 2011, Uttam was also awarded the CNN IBN Real Heroes Award for his contribution to society.

“Our greatest challenge until around now has been fundraising because funds from different countries are not enough to sustain. Sometimes we do not pay the teachers for two to three months,” says Uttam. Currently, we are looking out for hundred or fifty potential donors who can donate a sum of thousand rupees per month on a regular basis.

Address: Parijat Academy, Pamohi, P.O. Garchuk, Guwahati-781035, Assam.; Email: [email protected]

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

MyStory: “Two Months After I Joined IIT For My PhD I Was Diagnosed With TB”

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A person suffering from Tuberculosis (TB) not only battles the ‘Mycobacterium tuberculosis’ bacteria inside his lungs but also from the stigma attached to the disease. It weakens the patients in many different ways in their fight against the dreaded disease.  

My fight with TB was also filled with stigma. I joined IIT Kharagpur for my PhD in January 2015. Two months later, in March 2015, I was diagnosed with TB. I had to take sick leave from March 2015 that eventually lasted till June 2016. Initially, I did not respond well to medication. Further tests revealed that I had multidrug-resistant TB (MDR TB). This meant that the type of TB I had was resistant to two or more of the antitubercular medication I was taking.

About a year after the intensive phase of my treatment, I felt better and applied for readmission to IIT in July 2016. A prerequisite for rejoining was that my faculty members had to verify my application. With the formalities completed, I resumed my education, but I felt that something was amiss. 

My guide indicated that he did not want his work to suffer on account of my illness. I also heard from a senior colleague that my guide had said that I would spread the disease like an ‘infested animal’. I was disheartened at being subjected to this indignity by my supposed mentor.

However, my primary concern was defeating TB, so I didn’t dwell on it. Today, as I reflect on it, I realise the reasons behind the stigma were ignorance as well as fear.

Even among the educated, there are misconceptions about TB. People think all forms of TB are contagious. Others believe the patient is infectious for the entire length of the treatment. Some even believe that TB spreads through touch. This breeds the fear of contracting the illness.

As we know, people stigmatise and discriminate when they fear. I felt the impact of the stigma on two levels – in my professional life and my personal life.

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Emergency funds sent to 250 families

Professionally, the reluctance of my supervisor to mentor me and his discouragement affected me. I could not decide whether I should wait for the IIT authorities to tell me to leave or drop out. That decision was made for me by luck when I found out that my CSIR grant application was never processed. 

This meant that I would have to pay for my education. Given the expenditure on my treatment, this was unaffordable for me. This was the final nail in the coffin. I was forced to drop out and could not go back to completing my PhD.

What I faced was not technically illegal. I was discouraged from doing my PhD, but it was still a form of stigma. The external stigma I faced led to depression and isolation. 

Eventually, I realised I had to fight. The treatment for TB is difficult, requiring strict compliance and the management of side effects, and these demands resolve. I began motivating myself. I began following a proper diet and completing my treatment to ensure I could recover. I also turned to books as they transported me to other worlds and helped with my isolation. I also focused on reviving my old relationships.

Gradually, things improved. I could not proceed on my desired career path, but I am an educator now. I constantly realise that I have a role to play in shaping young minds. 

Workplace stigma has tangible consequences. It affects an individual’s career, financial opportunities and their right to work with dignity. So what can we do to address this stigma? 

First, we need to sensitise people by educating them about TB, and the impact stigma has on patients.

Another measure is group counselling involving the patient, the employer and the immediate supervisor. Informal versions of these sessions happen in the workplace in the context of illnesses like cancer. Why should it be any different for TB? 

The goal of this session would be to ensure that the patient is in a supportive environment. 

Finally, at a systemic level, there needs to be a workplace policy on stigma mitigation and a mechanism where the patients can anonymously register their concerns about stigma at the workplace.

A person’s career or job is often their calling and a provider of financial security. Workplace stigma creates a hostile work environment, affecting a person’s ability to do their job and their financial security. Financial insecurity and stigma make it harder for the patient to fight TB both in terms of means and motivation. Therefore, addressing stigma in the workplace is critical to patient well-being and recovery but also to their right to work with dignity.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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