It was early November, and the clock struck one. A huge group of children made a beeline to the lunch hall for their Mid Day Meals – a bunch of happy, excited faces. I waited patiently. In another hour’s time, I was to be served the same meal for my lunch.

The first morsel, and I knew something was ‘wrong’

somewhere. This could not be a Mid Day Meal, the meal children are used to have every day at govt. schools all across. Hot steaming rice, pulses cooked to perfection, nutritious and extremely tasty vegetables, big pieces of fish and chutney made from seasonal fruits to finish it off. All in all, that was a meal I won’t easily forget. I hesitated a bit, and then I couldn’t help myself from blurting out – “but I was supposed to be eating the Mid Day Meal that the children eat every day.” There was a peal of laughter from the staff serving the food, and an equally amused Head Master looked at me and said, “What makes you think you’re not?”

That’s when suddenly the happy faces made a lot of sense – I have rarely seen children so excited when they are lined up for lunch in government schools that serve the Mid Day Meal. That’s when I knew there was something special about this school, and the man behind it.

“I am a very ordinary man who started walking this journey with a very humble dream of a school where children would love to come to. Just that, and nothing else,”  smiles Mr. Ashim Pradhan, the Head Master of the Chandibheti Primary School, situated in a remote hamlet (Amtaliya Gram Panchayat, Deshpran Block, East Midnapore District) in West Bengal.

It all started with a dream.

The school that started from a small club on a small piece of land donated by the villagers in 2001, with just one other teacher apart from him, was awarded the “Nirmal Vidyalaya Award” (2014) and the “Shishumitra Award” (2015) by the Government of West Bengal. Before 2001, the Chandibheti village only had a nursery school.

The dream chased him to connect with a CRY supported project Kajla Janakalyan Samiti in 2003.

As CRY built his capacity and connected him to the local governance and different government officials, all this man did, was infect everyone he met with this humble dream. His perseverance and conviction got him to garner enough support to build a pukka school building in 2003. The Panchayat did its bit by helping him to create a pond through the MGNREGA scheme and arranging for saplings for the trees. The school had its own nutrition garden in 2003 where organic vegetables are grown for the children’s lunch. The villagers would never pick a fruit from the trees, or go fishing in the pond “because it is meant for our children.”

There are anecdotes galore that will make you realise how important this dream has become for not only Mr. Pradhan, but the entire village. Once a man who got caught while fishing from the pond was tried by the Panchayat to give back more than double the amount; an artist whose child is a student of the school painted the walls of the school absolutely free of cost; the gates of the school never remain closed and there is no burglary.

“When everything started falling into place one by one, when people came forward with their support, when I met CRY and Kajla Janakalyan Samiti and they believed in my dream as much as I did and when my school was filled with happy smiles of children every single day, I knew I was going in the right direction,” says the man ‘who comes home only for food and to sleep, his heart is in that school and you will always find him there.’

This is the first among a series of stories of individuals who did what they could do…and how miracles were born out of those efforts, how children’s lives not only took a turn towards the better, but also empowered them. These are stories of hope and these are stories that tell us that we are capable of creating a better future, and most importantly, a better present – together.

CRY was born out of this belief that ‘you’ want to make sure that each child in India gets access to the rights they are entitled to. The idea was to bridge the gap between ‘you’ and the millions of children in the most marginalized and resource poor parts of our country. ‘You’ could be a volunteer, donor, influencer, media person, celeb, or simply a person passionate about children. ‘You’ can be anyone who, like CRY, believes that – “What I can do, I must do”

Puja Marwaha, (CEO, CRY)

This story is from the intervention area of CRY supported project Kajla Jan Kalyan Samiti, West Bengal. If this story inspires you, help us enable more such here


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