Last year, as part of the children’s group we initiated in Dhakuria’s Ward 92 of Kolkata along with 3 other volunteers, we started undertaking sessions with the local children on a regular basis. The sessions which focused on teaching something new to the children be it arts and craft, GK quizzes, theatre etc, elicited much enthusiasm from the children who

looked forward to the sessions and interacting with the volunteers. However, in the group, we couldn’t help but notice one 10-year old boy, Pulak, who would participate in the sessions yet not interact much with the volunteers.

We observed that Pulak’s listening and learning abilities were quite sharp and his basic level of general knowledge was also quite good but could not decipher the reason for his ‘distant’ behavior. On discussing with the other children, we learnt that Pulak had not been going to school for almost 2 years. He did not find it interesting and even when his elder brother and friends went to school; he would simply want to play around at local para (colony). When we asked Pulak’s elder brother why Pulak dropped out, he said, ‘Okkey school e cherey Ashley o barite c holey ashto’ (when we dropped him till school and returned, he would come back home).

Pulak (in blue) listens to other members of the children’s group tell their story.

It took at least 3-4 months before we could gain Pulak’s trust and he started talking to us. Amar suddhu kheltey bhalo lagey’ (I only like playing), said Pulak in most of the sessions we undertook.  We also enquired from his parents and volunteers from other members of children group, if Pulak was abused/threatened or mistreated in school, there was however no such incident. We thus realized that this was a clear case of lack of interest and finding the school curriculum boring, which made the task of sending him back to school all the more difficult. Though disheartened, we still felt encouraged by the fact that Pulak had started communicating with us and was interested to know more.

Along with personally talking to Pulak and trying to motivate him into going to school, we also decided that before we start any session, we’ll ask all the children if they understood what the school is teaching them and ask everyone to share their experiences. These discussions made us look back to our school days and reflect on how different our experiences were from the children. Meanwhile, Pulak continued to stay quiet during these discussions.  Hoping against all odds, we still spoke to Pulak about how going to school would be helpful but did not see any visible reaction. Not wanting to break the trust he had placed in us and closing any possible means of communication, we decided not to pressure him and let him make his own decision.

This year in January 2014, during one of the sessions, when we asked the children how school was going and all the children shared their experiences, Pulak  stumped everyone by saying, ‘ It’s not bad, I’m going to school too ’.

To be honest, it was hard to believe initially and we did several cross checks with his parents, other children from the community as well as the school. We found out that his elder brother had started dropping him to school once again though this time, he attended classes all day and returned home with other children from the children’s group who live near his house.

Though a significant step, there’s still a long way to go. At the moment though everyone is really happy and content about the fact that Pulak took a decision to go back to school on his own. It was not thrust on him by anyone and shows how children can be empowered to make their own decision through the right dialogue, participation, awareness and discussion. The feeling of being a positive influence in a child’s life and enabling him to go back to school is immense and hard to describe in words.

Baisakhi Dutta and Shreya Sarkar are two of the most dedicated CRY volunteers in the East. ‘Each and every child matters and even if we can send one child back to school, we feel it is huge.’ 
‘We however couldn’t have continued with our sessions had it not been for our other group members Rwitoban Deb, Anindo Bhattacharya and Krishnendu S.Kar and the support from the CRY team,’ said Baisakhi.
To know more about volunteering with CRY, visit www.cry.org

*all photos taken with consent of the children.

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