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A School Built By the People, For The People
Jorhat, India
image: Ramen Prodhan | © all rights reserved
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2021 finalist
Location:
Jorhat, India
Category:
education
Phase:
under construction
Updated:
2 October 2022
The tea-plantations of Assam are facing an unprecedented socio-economic crisis, fueled in large parts by disempowerment of its 1.2 million labourers with access to even the basic freedoms. A people’s school is the stepping-stone for our vision of community-action based empowerment.Therein, the process of community-architecture is a collective effort to inspire unprecedentedly newer levels of collaboration and trust required for the challenge.
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Introduction
Assam has the highest school drop-out rates in India. This extreme lack of education is exacerbated by an unsustainable socio-economic crisis in the tea plantations that was seeded more than 150 years ago by top-down systems of an exploitative indentured/contract labour system created by the colonialists when they set up tea-plantations in Assam. Many feel that plantations, providing livelihoods to 1.2 million people, may not survive another 15-20 years if drastic course corrections are not taken. Our project of building a peoples’ school is a direct response to embark on such a drastic course correction path. 

We have enabled an empowering agency of the people to address this 150-year old disempowering gap in school spaces by humanising and contextualising built environments in a way that makes learning non-alienating, joyful, and aspirational for children and their communities. The driving force of our core team, of which two members have their lives rooted in the tea-plantations and thus know the problems deeply, has been harnessing the potential of local wisdom and resources through community participation. This is a tested model where we have already built a classroom called Beli Ghar (Sun House). It has allowed not just the children, but teachers and parents to collaborate with freedom. The dynamic physical space also acts as a meeting centre for the community. The initiative is an ongoing process with dedicated efforts of our NGO, collaborating with two architects with a deep understanding of the region and expertise in facilitating community-driven architecture.
Impact
At the immediate level, it is expected that the school will, after 150 years, set a vitally needed precedent and baseline for quality education in the tea plantation context. This will be achieved through nurturing a conducive environment, like we have been doing with the school classroom (Beli Ghar), where architecture has become a proven means to improve learning outcomes by making education contextual, compassionate and joyful. The initiative will directly impact around 5000 people in the project area. The dynamic space is built on a vision centered around nurturing capacities of community participation, thereby instilling ownership of the people towards the empowering process of education. For the long-term, we are deeply aware of the crisis in the tea industry which stems from outdated colonial structures that cascades into a host of other issues like climate change, rising cost of production, and a highly vulnerable workforce who depend on the industry. As a response to this, the initiative can become a model for the industry as it adapts to its challenges. For instance, as the industry moves towards mechanisation, in line with the global trend, quality education for its workers would be vital to meet the required skills and expertise. The initiative would also create conditions for decent work for the highly vulnerable workforce, offering a much larger potential to impact the 1.2 million workers across 800 tea plantations of Assam. 
sdgs
Core team
Jayesh and Uday were introduced to Arjun through a common connection. Uday then visited Arjun in Assam to form a team with the community builders, and the work on Beli Ghar starts. Gaurav, a student at TISS at the time is becoming increasingly involved in some of the grassroots organizations where Uday and Jayesh have built, and slowly becomes a part of the team. 

Dr. Arjun Trivedi (PhD, Physics)
Founder of Karunar Kheti Trust |  Wipro Education Fellow
Educator | Grassroots Social Worker | Scientist 
Arjun Trivedi Resume | LinkedIn Profile | List of Peer Reviewed Scientific Publications 

Uday Goswami
• Co-Founder, Urban Community and Social (UCS) Architecture, Mumbai
• Design Head, Developer Spaces, Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd. (ECPL), Mumbai
• Honorary Advisor to the Board, Better Life Foundation (BLF), Longkhim, Nagaland
• Volunteer Expert, Architecture in Development (AiD), Amsterdam
Uday Goswami CV

Jayesh Ganesh
• Freelance Community & Grassroots Architect, Bengaluru
• Regional Head, Bengaluru, Edifice Consultants Pvt. Ltd. (ECPL)
• Honorary Advisor to the Board, Better Life Foundation (BLF), Longkhim, Nagaland
Jayesh Ganesh CV

Gaurav Sarma
- Project Officer, Ethical Tea Partnership (2018-20)
- Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai (MA in Social Work)
Gaurav Sarma CV

Our work covered in the media:
“Assessing impact beyond Western models” (YouTube)
“Karunar Kheti Trust: Fostering Social Transformation in Assam”
Community Learning in the Tea Tribe Communities
আমেৰিকাৰ চাকৰি বাদ দি অসমৰ চাহ বাগান অঞ্চলৰ বাবে কাম কৰিছে অৰ্জুনে
Image gallery
Breaking ground for Beli Ghar

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Uday discussing the design of Beli Ghar with community builders

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Collaborative model building exercise between Uday and community builders

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Model building for Beli Ghar continues

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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The model is complete

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Construction begins - connecting bamboo with concrete

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Community builders learnt new technique to replace rope with nuts and bolts to put together bamboo structure

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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The model comes to life!

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Working with bamboo is a fine art

image: public domain
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Our children continue to learn as the men work on Beli Ghar in the background

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Uday, Arjun, and community builders pose for a picture!

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Children playing in front of Beli Ghar during their break

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Parents attend a meeting in school to discuss our COVID school closures related adapted learning model

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Teachers and volunteers painting Beli Ghar classroom furniture

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Parents attending an adult literacy session combined with a discussion of our school' curriculum and pedagogy inside Beli Ghar

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Mixed activities inside Beli Ghar: tutoring, self-study, and community research related data analysis

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Class 1 students deeply immersed with their teachers

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Another view of Class 1 students attending class in Beli Ghar

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Beli Ghar hosts a meeting of our school teachers, staff, and volunteers with a senior official of the government's department of education

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Beli Ghar hosts a workshop for community farmers on mushroom cultivation

image: Arjun Trivedi | © all rights reserved
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Technical drawings
Beli Ghar Elevation

image: Jayesh Ganesh | © all rights reserved
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Beli Ghar Floor Plan

image: Jayesh Ganesh | © all rights reserved
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Expansion to construct new classrooms beyond Beli Ghar

image: Jayesh Ganesh | © all rights reserved
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Master Plan for the School

image: Jayesh Ganesh | © all rights reserved
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Help bring our project to life!
2 October 2022
Little by Little, Day by Day, More Financial Support, and More Progress ...

After the intital fundraising goal of Eur 9000 was met, we raised another Eur 4000 that helped us complete the construction of the foundation and walls of our new academic block.

However, we still needed at least another Eur 2700 to start constructing the roof and towards which we, yesterday, received funds of Eur 3100, which is now enabling us to do more than the roof :) With the excess funds we will work on the block's electrification and attaching the related fixtures.

We are feeling immensely grateful for this generous donation and it felt very nice, to say the least, to now have all the funds to complete the core construction of our new academic block and giving the green light to our construction team to proceed full steam :)

In the attached picture, the bamboo structures that will support the roof can be seen going up. Note that only the RCC part of the walls can be currently seen because the bamboo part is being assembled as panels that will be put up in due time.

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7 August 2022
Progress on our new Academic Block

The art~science of bamboo~wood work begins to emerge to finds its wholesome place in the brick~mortar structure built thus far since the Foundation Laying Ceremony on 4th April 2022 for our new academic block, which will contain 3 new classrooms and an office space for our school.

We are also in the process of submitting a proposal along with our partner Envo Renewable Energy Services Pvt. Ltd. (ERES) for installing a solar-energy and rainwater harvesting system in this block so that we are, as far as possible, self-sufficient with sustainable and empowering sources of energy, which we can demonstrate as a practical model for the various needs of our rural community. 

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15 May 2022
A 1-minute-video essence...
... of a 3-year (December 2019 - May 2022) community-architecture process of building our school ...
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11 May 2022
Goal reached: € 9,000 raised!

(This too is a post-dated update for an event that occured in March 2022! Words cannot express the depths of our immersion in action from where the space, time, and energy for written expression, to say the least, often lags behind!)

in March 2022 we made our proposal to a potential funder who has agreed to fund the entirety of our financial need. 

Show previous updates
11 May 2022
Two Powerful Glimpses since Foundation Laying Ceremony

At the heels of wrapping up our participation as finalist in the A--D Global Challenge 2021, we would like to put up this post to show two powerful glimpses since the Foundation Laying Ceremony on 4th April 2022. 

Yes, tangible progress has been made in terms of brick and mortar being laid and two walls of one of the new classrooms coming up, which was significantly affected by mainy days of continuously heavy rain -- note the overcast skies which was the norm for this period.

But, more deeply, beyond what appears tangible in the physically obervable space-time dimensions, are powerful glimpses of a movement of people that stirs in the not-so-directly observable dimension of the hearts and minds.

In what words do we speak of all that stirs in our beings when we observe fathers of children working on building the classrooms that their children will study in as they play in the far distance? (bottom and top pictures, respectively)

A precedent is being set and we all feel it deeply. A small precedent for a peaceful movement of people to build empowering structures to access fudamental freedoms amidst a disproportionately larger landscape of conflicts whose description cannot be articulated in intellectual arguments even as encapsulated in systems and processes of law and order because deeply the arguments that need to be had are emotional, and what needs to, at least accompany the intellectual processes, are the processes of the heart -- of an open heart, a listening heart, and a brave heart to listen to each other and first cultivate the foundation of trust that seems to mostly eroded. 

Inshallah, may we all continue to take little steps, day by day, guided above all by the wisdom that teaches us to be patient and compassionate above all. May we continue to argue by action, building our arguments little by little, day by day, and may our "words come out from the depths of [such] truth[s]" (as noted by the the poet Rabindra Nath Tagore in his poem Where The Mind Is Without Fear)

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11 May 2022
A--D Reachout Connects us to a Water Harvesting Systems Specialist

(Please note that this a post-dated update events that occured between 25-31st March, 2022)

Through Architecture-in-Development's social media reachout on our behalf for our need to connect with a Water Harvesting systems specialist (on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook), Abhimanyu Verma, who not only has hands-on experience with such systems, but is able to integrate it in his wholesome perspective and experience in ecological design and conservation, connected with us and visited us for a week between 25th - 31st March, 2022. (For those interested, I highly recommend viewing a comprehensive video presentation that Abhimanyu put together on water harvesting technologies, its science, art, and humanity, across ancient and modern India, for World Water Day 2021 organized by Delhi Urban Network, Beyond Trees Network and US Forest Service International Programs.)

In addition to conducting surveys related to designing our water harvesting systems with the vision of making our school, as far as possible, reliant on such technologies for our daily needs, he also undertook wider surveys/studies in the area to help us design our school as a model for wholesome ecological design and conservation that exists not in isolation, but in synergy with the needed ecological realities of life around us, which includes the practical needs of the human beings, plants, and animals around us.

He concluded his visit by sharing with our school's teachers and staff his experiences with ecological conservation and design, and why such should become an important aspect for education in our times.

Godwilling, we will be able to take little steps, day by day, towards such a wholesome vision. May God bless us all with the wisdom to be patient and consistent with our efforts.

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23 April 2022
Glimpses of Foundation Laying Ceremony
[19th April, 2022] Glimpses as small sightings of powerful, even ineffable, experiences of the foundation laying ceremony of Selenghat Valley School.
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4 April 2022
New Partner: Envo Renewable Energy Services Pvt. Ltd.
In a previous update we noted our collaboration with a solar panel expert, Fazle Muztaba. In this update we note in detail information about his organization, Envo Renewable Energy Services Pvt. Ltd. (ERES), of which he is the Co-Founder and Managing Director.

ERES is a rural energy enterprise creating a holistic ecosystem to provide reliable energy access in the most remote and vulnerable areas of the North East Region of India. 

ERES is working in the most remote and vulnerable areas of the region bringing in renewable energy intervention in household and community lighting, health, education, livelihood, disaster relief and allied or related activities , has impacted the life of around 600,000 rural populations till date. ERES promotes clean and green energy to createv avenues for asset building, enhancement in quality of life and wealth creation that will uplift deprived sections of society through sustainable development solutions.
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4 April 2022
We finally take the leap...

(Please note that this a delayed update for an event that occured on 21st March, 2022)

... to begin construction on a large and prominent piece of land entrusted to our school after more than 2 years of hard work to patiently set a precedent for community action, working hardest perhaps in the domain of hearts and minds of people, than what manifests materially in the visible space-time dimensions.

No words or pictures can encapsulate the tremendous depth of these ground-breaking moments, perhaps aptly documented in the humbling simplicty of a prayer ceremony and hand-held equipment to mark the land and begin the process of digging the earth. 

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4 April 2022
Collaboration with Solar Power Expert
(Please note that this a delayed update for an event that occured on 20th February, 2022)

On 20th February 2022 we were happy to finally welcome Fazle Muztaba and his team from Guwahati to begin collaboration on integrating solar panels in our new school buildings whose planning has been in an immersive process. (The meeting took place in our recently completed classroom, Tora Ghar.)

Fazle Muztaba is the Co-Founder & Managing Director of Envo Renewable Energy Services Pvt. Ltd., a rural energy enterprise creating a holistic ecosystem to provide reliable energy access in the most remote and vulnerable areas of the North East Region of India. 
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16 February 2022
Tora Ghar Welcomes its First Students
Tora Ghar, on February 15th 2022, welcomed its first students after schools in Assam were allowed to open after yet another long COVID related shutdown of schools. 
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10 February 2022
Construction of Tora Ghar Complete

With the construction of Tora Ghar that began on October 4th 2021 now complete, it feels particularly satisfying to click the following picture of the architectural landscape of our exploratory school-block where we began our experiments with community architecture in 2019.

Please note the recent addition of colorful fences made out of bamboo and plastic bottles (in red and yellow) to keep out livestock from our school's kitchen garden, which we plan to use for exploring and understanding life based on the values and practices of methods ranging from science to compassion.

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30 January 2022
“A small step for man…
… , a giant leap for mankind” — words inspired by Neil Armstrong deeply stir in me as we set foot on land that has anything but easy for our community as a collective to entrust our school with. 

Our challenges may not compare as directly with the immense space-time extent of the journey to moon. Nevertheless, I believe there is something just as profound happening, at least in the context of our people, when such words stir from every part of my being in a mix of cathartic relief that is simultaneously grounded in the humility of our challenges, and the yin-yang of the challenges-opportunities of the years to come.  The space extent of this land is infinitesimally small in comparison to the moon, but the internal dimensions of the journey in the hearts and minds of people, and its related non-linearity of time, just as profound. (For completeness, no small step for a collective humanity is without the such profound movements in the hearts and minds of people, which includes the journey to the moon that cannot be reduced in isolation to purely an achievement of science and engineering, even if that is most directly impressive.)

Following is a video glimpses of this great day for us (29th January, 2022). The video begins with moments before stepping onto the the land as we reflected on the progress of our new classroom on the small piece of land where we began our attempt to set a precedent for community action more than 2 years ago and going over the construction plan for the new land, which is separated by a paddy field and is stone's throw distance away. 
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3 January 2022
Our First Meeting with External Advisors

January 2, 2022 was a significant day for us, one that we had been imagining and believing to happen in due time, when the work of our community would organically build relationships with people outside of it, and whose participation with us would begin to complete to yet another fundamental order of magnitude the landscape of a wholesome ecosystem to grow and nurture our school. 

The power of the picture below where Uday Goswami is presenting our school's architectural plan to its first formal board of advisors can barely be expressed in words, but, we pray, will unfurl in the hard work of action on the ground. 

We are grateful to have on this board as its first members:

1. Purnima Contractor who is an Early Education Development (ECD) consultant and President, Association for Early Childhood Education and Development, Mumbai (AECED). She brings to us the combined experience of the theory and practice of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE).

2. Krishna Dutta Deka who is a senior lecturer at the esteemed District Institute of Education and Training (DIET), Jorhat, Assam and who along with expertise in ECCE, also brings to us the interface of education with its policies at various local and state government, and also international levels.   

3. Dr Gautam Barua is currently a Professor in the Dept of Computer Science and Engineering, and also the Director of Indian Institute of Inforamation Technology, Guwahati. In addition to being a researcher and academic, he is also an institution builder -- he has and continues to be involved at high levels of building academic institutions in various parts of India, which includes being at the helm of building both IIT and IIIT, Guwahati.

The little steps our rural community has been taking to build a community school has now begun to connect with paths of people working at a national level and beyond -- experienced early education practioners and esteemed institution builders. This update, along with this tremendous practical update, is also a contemplation on this organic journey and also a prayer that it remains so.

We want to especially note how warm and committed the presence of our advisors was at the meeting, which was expressed by their genuine happiness and interest to be working with us, and their critical feedback to our plans. 

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28 December 2021
Getting Ready for a Leap

This post is a peek into our preparation to take a leap standing on the foundation created by more than 2 years of taking little steps to set a precedent for community action in the tea-plantations of Assam in a small exploratory piece of land where we continue to build our newest classroom.

We are now getting ready to build on a significantly larger and prominent piece of land that came to be given to our school because of a growing coherency among the various stakeholders of the tea plantation where we are located. 

The picture below is a construction plan that is emerging from our architects in conversation with the school staff, community construction workers and the community at large, and our first official board of advisors for the school which has its first members two Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) academics and practitioners, and an institution builder who has helmed building of renowned institutions not just in Assam, but in other places of India as well.

More details will follow in subsequent updates. At the outset this update is a peek into what is to come, but deeply it is a contemplation of our progress that continue to dance between the surreal and real.

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11 December 2021
Progressing Tora Ghar in the Winter's Setting Sun
11th December 2021

The thought of sharing a picture of Tora Ghar made particularly beautiful in the winter setting sun felt like a warm update to share. Since the last update, the roof made of leaves of a local tree is complete and modular frames made of bamboo and wood are going up and will finally make up the walls of our new classroom. 
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4 December 2021
Progress on Construction of Tora Ghar (Star House)
2nd December 2021

The construction of Tora Ghar, the new classroom for our school began on 4th October, 2021, and this is what it looks like today.

As Tora Ghar begins to emerge next to Beli Ghar, which was our first experience in community-architecture, more than its architectural impact, what stirs most deeply in me is the emergence of little steps of a humanity, which I pray manifests in a giant leap, little by little, day by day, nourished above all by the wisdom of patience.
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17 November 2021
Launch of "Call to Action" for Selenghat Valley School

October 2021 has been the launchpad for a new wave of our community-architecture effort, which in addition to "Construction of Tora Ghar (Star House) Begins" and "Community Ownsership of Donated Land" (see posts below), also saw the launch of our "Call To Action" campaign to generate support from existing supporters and also to reachout to new ones. 

This campaign included a series of 8 posts curated by Jayesh Goswami based on experiences captured in pictures and words over the last 2 years to share the journey of our community school thus far.

This series has been put together in a combined Call To Action document. Below are the links to each item in the series.

1. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/633625418075835
2. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/634830907955286
3. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/637261827712194
4. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/638077407630636
5. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/639405244164519
6. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/641666180605092
7. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/643275963777447
8. https://www.facebook.com/karunarkheti/posts/644468976991479


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17 November 2021
Another € 1,085 raised
17 November 2021
Construction of Tora Ghar (Star House) Begins
4th October 2021

Consruction of our 2nd new classroom, Tora Ghar (Star House) began next to Beli Ghar (Sun House).

The construction crew for this classroom are from a different sub-community of our larger community, and therefore, this experience is also a new learning and collaborative experience, which we hope is going to our imagined visioned of a dynamically coherent diversity of the poeple.  
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15 November 2021
Community Ownsership of Donated Land

3rd October 2021 was a significant day in the history of our organization and also in the 175-year history of the tea-plantations of Assam.

After 2 years of establishing a precedent for a people's movement with promise of peace and harmony, the ownsership and management of Boisahabi Tea Estate confidentally, hopefully, and enthusiastically entrusted a large piece of land measuring 11.5 hectares (15000 square meters) to the Board of Trustees of Karunar Kheti Trust that comprises the tea estate's tea-pluckers, blue collar workers of the tea factory, office clerk, a student union leader, and the founder of the organization. 

Such a step is unprecedented in the history of the tea-plantations of Assam and words cannot express the profound its significance.

To mark this day, a Shram Daan (volunteer donation of labour) was organized led by the Board of Trustees to clear the land of long-standing weedy growth and prepare it for the upcoming construction. This effort to clear the field was secondary to the symbolic intention of the poeple to step on the land as a collective and make known the intention to work hard to clear the air of conflict and disempowerment, and usher in an era of peace and empowerment. 

 

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Help bring our project to life!
Where are we now
In an unprecedented community-action movement in the context of the tea-plantations of Assam, we have been successful at mobilizing and enabling our community to build the hard structures and soft processes of our school. Our community craftsmen and builders, in collaboration with our architects, built our first new class room (Beli Ghar) and renovated an old building to be used as temporary teaching spaces. We have currently 100 students studying in grades Nursery to Class 1. After having set such a groundbreaking precedent and observing the positive impact in the community, we are now confidently planning to scale up our school by adding a new grade each year till we reach Class 12. 
An indication of our team’s capacity:
50% funding already raised
70% expertise already found
70% materials / equipment already found
70% builders already found
Finance: € 9,000
The funding will help us build a people’s school in one of the tea-plantations of Assam. The tea-industry of Assam is the 3rd largest employer of people in India and is facing an unprecedented socio-economic crisis that threatens the peace and stability of the region. A way out of this crisis must be an empowered participation of its people in the developmental process, from which they have been disempowered since the day tea plantations were set up in Assam more than 150 year ago by the British. Our school is also a process for creating a model for such a participatory process that has the potential to ease the crisis that affects 1.2 million tea-labourers across 800 tea-plantations. 
  • Classroom for Class 2
4,500
  • Classroom for LKG
4,500
Skills: Technique, PR & Marketing, Financial advice

Technique: We need help with setting up green infrastructure, for example solar powered electricity and rain water harvesting systems.

PR & Marketing: We need help connecting with a wider ecosystem that support such community-drive architecture.

Financial advice: We can always use help with fundraising for our cause.

Stuff: Equipment & tools

Equipment & tools: Our most immediate and urgent need is for equipment needed to setup solar power on our school's campus, and also rainwater harvesting systems.

 

Hands
Volunteers that can help us with setting up green infrastrastructure, for example solar panels and rainwater harvesting sytems, will be very valuable.

In general we welcome volunteers because it brings a cheer, new energy, and a sense of validation and support for our community as it sets out to empower itself.
Help bring our project to life!
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