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 PRAYAS : An Effort
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 songs.

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 themselves”.

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.

Mainak Banerjee
(3rd year B.Com Hons)
Antonita Madonna Devotta
(2nd year Eng. Hons)
St. Xavier’s College. Kolkata  


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 villages.

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 solved.”

Abhisek Banerjee
First yr, MA, Journalism and Mass Comm, CU

Students Speak about their experience in Villages
“The camp was an enriching experience. Interacting with the children and teaching them was an experience never to be forgotten. Every moment spent there has left me spellbound and I would like to go again to discover new things.” Srijain Acharya

“The camp was indeed very educative for me. The children were punctual and hardworking. I await a chance to go there again.” Suman Poddar

“It was a unique learning experience not only for the kids but for us students. I have learnt to live for others.” Ritesh Khetan

“Going to Gurap has been a lifetime experience and I am satisfied that I brought smiles on the faces of some children.” Boris Lakra

“This camp has made me realize that life is not to be sitting idle; it is full of responsibility and hard work. I consider myself fortunate to have gone for this camp and to have learnt the deeper meaning of life.” Piyush Munot

“After attending this camp I have learnt to be more self-dependent as I witnessed these little children doing all their work independently. Be it washing their clothes or getting ready for school, they did all by themselves.” Ankur Dhanuka
“The camp was a different experience altogether. I felt a sense of satisfaction by serving others and living the way they do. Even though the camp was for a few days it has taught me lessons for a lifetime.” Nikhil Saraf

“The camp was a great experience and I am looking forward to serve these children in a better way in future.” Binod Homagai

“Camps at Gurap and Pandua had been a new experience in my life. Living with children for five days, sharing their food at Pandua, playing with them, interacting with them was all new to me. But at the end of those five days, I realized that I would be missing after I return. Until and unless one goes to a camp, one would never feel for this project”. Ignatius Rozario

“An experience never to be forgotten and we all would love to have many such experiences. May God bless those children and endow them with the power of learning.” Arjun Karnani

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