Kalimpong teacher finds home for destitutes

Kalimpong, Aug. 27: A Kalimpong primary teacher with his government pay, and a bit of charity from the church and his family runs a school for 121 poor children and shelter for destitute kids.

Om Bahadur Rai cannot buy cooking gas to feed the 54 destitutes who stay in his shelter, the Ashadip Charitable Trust. So he moved his shelter to a place where firewood is easily available.

"I started the home in January 2010 and the school a month later. By the end of the year, there were 46 children in the home," said the 38-year-old assistant teacher of Upper Dalapchand Primary School in Pedong, 20km from Kalimpong.

He said 75 per cent of the students do not pay fees. Fifty-four of the 121 students stay in the shelter. The rest, who come from their own homes, pay a nominal amount.

"Education, health (facilities), clothes and food are accessible only to those who can afford them. I wanted to provide all these to as many poor children I possibly could," said Om, who has four daughters. One of them, 15-year-old Vijeta, is adopted.

Rai started the shelter and the school from two buildings at Pedong Bazar that he inherited from his grandfather.

"As the number of children in the school and the home grew, I had to sell the land which also I had inherited," he said. "I sold the plot for about Rs 12 lakh to meet the initial cost of the two establishments," he said.

The shelter was later shifted to Pedong from Pedong Bazar, 2km away.

"The main problem was water. Water scarcity becomes a big problem in the dry season. The other reason (to shift the shelter to Pedong) was that I couldn't afford to buy cooking gas to prepare food for so many children. At Pedong, there is no problem of water and firewood is easily available," he said.

A part of the money comes from the church and two of his sisters. "The local church gives me Rs 5,000-6,000 every month and two of my sisters give me Rs 1,000 and Rs 500 every month," he said.

Whatever extra cash he needs, he has to take from his salary. Wife Tripti, 34, also contributes from what she earns by running a paying guest accommodation.

Rai said, of late, local people had helped him a bit. "I am grateful to the people who have come forward to help me. It is getting increasingly difficult to run the two places, but I will persevere," he said.

His school Little Angels has classes from nursery to VI. There are 11 teachers and one non-teaching member in the staff. Their salaries add up to Rs 25,000 a month, which is nearly Rs 6,000 more than his government pay.

The shelter is a wood and bamboo house where children either sleep in bunk beds or share space in the larger ones ' two-three in one bed.

They get three meals and clothes and seemed a happy lot.

"I feel good here. I can play, go to school and study," said 12-year-old Pravin Bhujel, a student of Class V from Upper Fagu, bordering Dooars.