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A Kiss Of Life For Kalinga Kids

A unique educational initiative has been a lifeline for Orissa’s tribal children

A Kiss Of Life For Kalinga Kids
A Kiss Of Life For Kalinga Kids
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

A Model To Follow 

  • Earnings from the Kalinga Institute of Technology fuel the funds for the KISS education initiative
  • Now KISS plans to set up small schools in 30 of Orissa’s districts, and in 10 other states

***

Ranjit Naik most likely would have been using his skills in arch­ery in illegal game hunting, somewhere in the forests of Mayurbhanj district of Orissa. Instead, the strapping youth from the Bhuyan tribe has his sights set on Rio, for the 2016 Olympics. His target? TOP, or the Target Olympic Podium scheme, launched by the Union ministry of sports & youth affairs.

Similarly, in neighbouring Balasore district, fate seems to have rescued Jagabandhu Hembram, a Santhal, from spending the rest of his life helping his father Ramchandra on his farm. He is currently in the employ of IT giant Wipro.

Yes, they, and 25,000 tribal children like them, have a godfather. He is Dr Achyuta Samanta, whose vision has bec­ome the light at the end of the tunnel the lives of these child­ren would perhaps have been otherwise. His brainchild, the Kalinga Institute of Social Scien­ces (KISS), runs a school for tribal children, many of them from PVTG (parti­cularly vulnerable tribal groups), from across Orissa and beyond. “We provide them free education, besides food, lodging, clothes, medicine, study material, from KG to PG,” says KISS spokesperson Shradhanjali Nayak.

Hearteningly for the children, they are taught in their mother tongue for the first few years till they acquire the required proficiency at communicating in Oriya, Hindi and English. “I could not speak any language other than Bonda, my mother tongue, when I came here in 2006,” says Hadi Dhangdamajhi, a plus-two student of humanities at the school. “Today, I can speak, read and write in Oriya, Hindi and English.”

When Outlook reached the sprawling KISS campus in Bhubaneswar, it was lunch time. Thousands of children, some as young as five, stood neatly in queues, shining steel plates in hand, awaiting their turn to get into the giant dining hall that can accommodate 10,000 at a time. And if you thought that number would leave a filthy dining hall in its wake, think again. Not a speck of food lies anywhere. The care shows elsewhere. All food is steam cooked. There is a large RO plant, and a biogas one. “Hea­lth check-ups are done on each child every week,” a teacher tells us.

You could make a pretty ins­pi­red guess on the kind of money such an enterprise would need. Which is why it comes as a surprise when KISS officials say they have so far not accep­ted any donations from any agency—government or private—or rai­sed money through other means, though the school has been running since 1992.

It is earnings from ano­ther Samanta endeavour, the Kalinga Institute of Industrial Technology (KIIT), an engineering college, that sus­tain KISS’s initiative.

But soon it might not be enough, as KISS plans to extend its footprint. This inc­ludes setting up schools for 1,000 kids in each of Orissa’s 30 districts, and bigger ones in 10 other states for underprivileged children. The NCR already has one school for 1,200 children, in collaboration with the Delhi government. A larger effort would mean opening up to accepting donations. “Besides routine expenses on food, shelter, clothing and similar things for thousands of students,” says Nayak, “there are a host of other invisible expenses. For example, we are spending Rs 25 lakh on the training of Ranjit Naik to prepare him for the Rio Olympics. That is why it is becoming difficult to sustain the eff­ort without at least a part of it coming by way of donations.”

Their success story has attracted many an admi­rer, among them renowned American anthropologist, researcher and Fulbright scholar Christine Finnan.

But the man behind it all, Samanta, remains humble as ever. “As someone who lost his father at four and came up the hardest possible way, I realised very early that education is the only way to alleviate poverty,” he says.

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