College to Village & Village to College
Fr Felix Raj (right) with the
children and the volunteers.
Picture by Sanat Kumar Sinha
||St. Xavier’s College, now an autonomous institution, has always believed
in a system of education which not only imparts to its students academic
values, but also a scientific and broadly humanistic outlook in order to
enhance their individuality as well to reach out to the marginalized in
society. The college and its student force always initiate new projects
in order to stand behind the poor and the needy in an attempt to be “Men
and Women for Others”. With this view, Fr. Felix Raj, SJ (Vice-Principal
of the College), challenged the first year B.Com student community to
reach out to the rural children in love and service. It was an
initiative, rather, an effort to initiate “college students going to the
village and village children coming to college”, a project named Prayas,
which began in January 2006.
As early as 1969, the students of St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata have
been involving in activities for the betterment of the society. Under
the guidance of Fr. Babu Beckers, St. Xavier’s attained general
membership in the Students Health Home and then held a blood donation
campaigns for the expansion of the home. In 1972, thousands of students
participated in a sponsored walk, ‘Walk for a Fuller Life’ and raised a
rupee each for every kilometer of the 16-kilometer route. The collection
from this venture amounted to Rs 2 lakhs and was given to build the 2nd
floor of the Students Health Home with 20 additional beds. The college
holds bi-annual Blood Donation Camps every year.
Realizing that India lives in her villages and that villages are the
real sources o our national vitality, St. Xavier’s College began the
Sherpur Project in 1973. For 4 years, students of the college organized
camps in the Sherpur in Murshidabad district for its renewal. The
Sherpur experience included the redeeming the alienated land, the
starting of a thriving vegetable and cattle market, the organization of
marginal farmers to irrigate their land, the bringing of electricity,
the running of twenty adult literacy centers, the organization of silk
worm rearers into cooperatives and the distribution of one acre land
each to four hundred landless families in Hijol.
This was not the end. Considerable efforts were carried out in the
flood-affected district of Malda in 1998. Students collected and
distributed relief materials in cash and kind to victims. They also
built 50 houses in different villages of Malda. During the summer in
2000 a work camp was organized and students built one relief center and
a school for two different villages in Malda.
When the novel project of Prayas was launched, the excitement was as
high as ever and the involvement as sincere as always. Fr. Felix Raj had
insisted, “The effort must arise out of genuine concern on the part of
the students, rather than perfunctory charity. It must flow from
within”. The project was formally launched in January 2006 at St.
Xavier’s College by the collective effort of the teachers and students
with an overwhelming response. Class Representatives (CRs) came forward
to coordinate the effort. As per the project, each student contributes
Re 1 per day and the collection is sent every month to students of Gurap,
Pandua, Jhantipahari and Mirga villages. The students of St. Xavier’s
College have sponsored 50 children of each village. Fr. Raj’s message to
the students was “Whatever you give must be a sacrifice. Sacrifice one
single comfort a day and extend your helping hands to the less
privileged children of our villages.” One could sacrifice one cup of
tea, one samosa or even one cigarette a day to raise that money.
The Prayas did not end there – three groups of students went to the
villages, lived with the village children and taught them. Then the
village children were brought to St. Xavier’s College where they were
shown the Campus and the city. It was an opportunity for them to visit
Kolkata, an educative exposure organized by the students themselves.
It took only Re1/-, a generous heart and some time to bring smiles on
the faces of the less privileged children. It is a gesture of love and
concern. A close relationship has been built among the village children
and the college students. The relationship will surely go a long way and
hopefully to the extent that one day the village children will come to
the college following the foot steps of their mentors-the students.
The effort is being continued enthusiastically and is coordinated by
Class representatives under the guidance of the Social Work Department
of the college. The BBA students and the newly established Evening B.Com
students have also joined the Prayas. Currently about 200 children are
being educated in four villages- Pandua, Gurap, Mirga and Jhantipahari.
Students of the college regularly visit these villages and teach these
children English, Arithmetic, painting etc. along with various games and
It has now become a part of the semester cum credit system for the
1st year students after the college has gained autonomy. The children
are provided with slates, chalks, textbooks, notebooks, pens etc.
Recently some blankets were collected for the children of these villages
who have been daring the tough weather without any warm clothes. It is a
noble Prayas to keep the Xavierian Motto “Nihil Ultra” (Nothing Beyond)
alive in its true sense. The villages have also become venues for annual
rural exposure camps.
Students who camped in the villages found the experience enriching.
“Interacting with the children and teaching them was an experience never
to be forgotten”, said Srijan Acharya. In the words of Ritesh Khaitan,
“I have learnt to live for others”. Sagar Daryani, a senior student
expressed that he really felt touched when children told him “Dada amra
o boro hoye apnar moto college jabo” (when we grow up, we too will go to
college like you). “This camp made me realize that material happiness is
not everything in life” expressed Aditya Agarwal. Ankur Dhanuka was very
impressed by the self-dependent hard-working children and said “Be it
washing their clothes or getting ready for school, they did it all by
So much for the past and the present, but what about the future? After
all, India has 16,885 colleges with approximately 1 crore students and 5
lakhs teachers and 35% Indians are still illiterate! Fr. Felix Raj has
the answer to this complex scenario; “If every College could adopt one
village and nurture and motivate the children of that village, no scale
will be left unattained. It will be an Educational Revolution and
illiteracy can be radically eradicated.”
We strongly believe that education is the engine for change, progress
and development. It is the answer to the complex problems we face in our
country. If this kind of a project can be made a part of college life
and pedagogy, a new dawn in the field of education in India can be seen
at hand. Xaverians are pioneers; they are determined to take their
PRAYAS to other colleges as well, to ensure a social transformation
throughout India. It is our ardent wish that someday, every child from a
VILLAGE would come TO COLLEGE when every COLLEGE reaches out TO VILLAGE.
(3rd year B.Com Hons)
|Antonita Madonna Devotta
(2nd year Eng. Hons)
|St. Xavier’s College.
Village to College
Project Prayas brings 50 underprivileged children to Calcutta
(Published in The Telegraph, June 25, 2007)
It was an attempt by a few
students of St Xavier’s College to bring a smile on the faces of 50
children from three villages of the state.
A three-day summer camp was organised for children from Gurap, Mirga and
Jhantipahari villages on the college premises from June 7. It was a part
of Prayas movement.
Initiative by Fr. Felix Raj, SJ to educate children from four villages,
under the supervision of N.S.S. Department of the College.Each student
from BBA and B.Com (morning and evening) departments contributes one
rupee everyday for the project. The money is distributed on a monthly
basis in the three villages. On an average, Rs 150 is allotted for each
child. They stay and study in the boarding centres in their respective
The project was started in January 2006 and is coordinated by the class
representatives. It caters to 200 children from four villages — Gurap,
Pandua, Jhantipahari and Mirga.
“College to Village and Village to College” — as the camp was called —
involved both students and the teachers of St. Xavier’s.
The children, aged between 8 and 15 years, were given special classes in
Mathematics, English and General Knowledge. “We hope that some day these
children will study in this college,” said Fr. Raj.
The camp also included educational trips to places like Victoria
Memorial, Science City and Indian Museum. “This is for the first time I
have come to Calcutta. I learnt many things at the camp. I also want to
study very hard,” said Biswajit Kora, a Class III student from Gurap.
“Prayas is a movement that needs to reach every village to bring about
an educational revolution,” said Father Raj. “If the 16,885 colleges in
the country adopt one village each, the problem of illiteracy would be
First yr, MA, Journalism and Mass Comm, CU