IIT’ian To A Social Entrepreneur
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.”
These words of wisdom by Dwight D. Eisenhower have found its true meaning in the life of Bipin Dhane, an IIT Kharagpur graduate, who left his stylish and carefree Singaporean life for a life in the distant islands of Majuli, creating a haven for children who wishes to learn and experience but do not have sufficient means to do so.
Born in a middle-class family in Satara, Maharashtra, Bipin had always been a gem of a student, who studied Naval Architecture from IIT Kharagpur and bagged a good job with a multinational company in Singapore. While he always wanted to work towards the betterment of the society and do something towards the upliftment of the backward communities in the country, Bipin did not really know how to go about it or where to start his journey from. All he knew was that he wished to be an educator but not a conventional teacher. Speaking about his journey to The Better India, Bipin recalls how his calling came.
Laying A Foundation To A Bright Future
“I never wanted the corporate life. There was no fulfilment in working there. For nearly a year and a half, I had thought about quitting. One day on social media, I connected with a friend of mine who was working in the remote river island of Majuli on the Brahmaputra River in Assam as a teacher for underprivileged children. I aspired to work in the education sector, and she told me there were opportunities to teach there. I finally mustered the courage to quit in October 2015 and made my way to Majuli.”
Needless to say, this decision to quit his job did not go well with his parents. However, they had to give in since everyone knew about Bipin’s passion for working towards the general good of the society.
“They already knew of my desire to quit, but they were unhappy, particularly my father, who was angry,” reminisced Bipin. And thus his journey towards the unknown began. Today, as Bipin says, after four years of undying effort and relentless work, he runs The Hummingbird School in Majuli’s Kulamu village, which essentially caters to the education of underprivileged children of the Mising tribal community. It is a co-educational school, which does not only believe in dispersing bookish knowledge but champions an overall growth in the personality of the children.
Today, Bipin’s school has 240 students coming from as many as 11 local villages. Out of them, 70 children stay at a hostel specifically made to house students who come from far away (and remoter) villages. The Hummingbird School, up to now, conducts classes till the fifth standard.
Unaware Of The Amazing Initiative
When Bipin packed his bags for India, he did not have the faintest idea of setting up a school. He was teaching at a local school in Majuli in his initial days when one of his colleagues took him to the village of Kulamu and narrated the problems of the villagers as they greeted Bipin. Proper educational facility was a distant dream to these villagers, who did not even have pucca roads and basic healthcare facility.
Bipin had to do something but the road was not easy. Reminiscing the past, he said, “The people felt that it was time to take the initiative and do something. That’s when they asked me to start a school in their village. As a person who has a hard time saying no to people, I agreed to give it a shot. But I had no money and pretty much transferred all my savings to my parents”.
Thereafter, Bipin reached out to his friends, colleagues, and his sister, from whose humble donations, he set out on this noble venture. The residents of the village and its neighborhood villages also helped him with all they could, with three families even donating their lands to build the school.
“Residents donated wood, bamboo, and other construction material. From the break of dawn every day, they helped me in constructing this school. It took about three months to build it. The residents entirely built the school, and they constructed it for free,” says Bipin.
Thus in early 2017, The Hummingbird School was built with 120 children from 11 villages across Majuli.
Community Participation To Deal With The Demon – The Annual Floods
One of the major reasons for this region to be absolutely jeopardised is the annual flood. Majuli, which is India’s largest river island, is almost entirely engulfed under the wrath of the untamed Brahmaputra every year during monsoons. So, even after Bipin and his team built a humble building for the school, they soon realized that the infrastructure was too feeble to withstand the crazy monsoon of Majuli.
“In the first year, when the floods came, we realised that the infrastructure we had built couldn’t cope with the floods. They left behind much damage, but the village community came together to fix up the school. Now, some of our buildings are built above a certain level of water using a combination of modern and traditional building techniques,” he adds.
Giving Wings To The Innocent Dreams
While working for the school, Bipin and his colleagues felt the need to extend their support to the community so as to build a healthy society. With this intention, they set up the Ayang Trust in November 2017. Today, the trust is working towards transforming five government schools in the surrounding region apart from running a library that is catering to the intellectual needs of the children from five nearby villages.
The word ‘Ayang’ in Mising language means compassion and love, the core values without which any noble endeavour would fall flat. Apart from this, Ayang is also working to improve livelihood opportunities for locals by promoting a producers’ collective and working closely with rural women weavers of Majuli. Recently, these weavers got their own yarn bank.
Education Is Free Thanks To Good Community Participation
Everybody living in this world knows that education is expensive. The books are expensive and maintaining a healthy atmosphere incurs expenses. According to Bipin, the cost of providing wholesome education to a single child each month comes around Rs 1,200. However, not every villager can afford so much money. Of the 240-odd children the school has, around 100 families pay around Rs 250 each month, while for the rest, it is free. The hostel also runs free of cost. So, how do Bipin and his team – who themselves mostly come from normal middle-class backgrounds – manage to recover the expenses and with elan?
“Yes, the tuition for many of these students is free, but that isn’t the complete picture. If everything is free, how will students and their families value the education we are giving? Akin to how the entire community participated in the construction of this school, the parents of students whose tuition fees are waived off come to school once a month and contribute their services. For those living in the hostel, their parents come over three-four times a month to offer a day’s labour assisting non-teaching staff with the cooking, cleaning, washing, collecting firewood, etc. Moreover, they also get a chance to monitor how their ward is doing. This creates a sense of ownership,” says Rituparna, who is currently working with the trust.
A Bangalore-based NGO, called the Sunbird Trust, helps The Hummingbird School with the tuition fees, while the Rotary Club of Poona Downtown recently gave them funds to a hostel, a library, and a computer laboratory. In fact, a couple of months ago, Bipin was felicitated with The Budding Social Entrepreneur Award 2018-19.
“There is a certain magical quality about Majuli and the villages within it” -Bipin
Apart from these, one of the main things which Ayang Trust does is encourage eco-tourism in Majuli. The tourists, who spend more than 10 days in the pristine locales of Majuli, are urged to pay for the tuition fees of one or two children for a year. In this way, not just the children are benefitted but the travellers also get to experience the vivid countryside of India’s largest river island, which is still unknown to many Indians themselves. As for the IITian, who made possible all these things, still thinks it all to be a great dream, “I never knew things would change and grow so fast. I hope to stay here as long as possible. There is a certain magical quality about Majuli and the villages within it. It’s something that always stays with you.”
While Bipin and his team are working relentlessly to turn some people’s dreams into reality, they still need help – not just monetary but also aids from volunteers. If you want to be a part of their noble venture, please click here.