EDITIONS
Education

Devastated by Assam floods, how this school on the world's biggest river island continues to fight back

Hema Vaishnavi
7th Oct 2016
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Many years ago, in the heart of the Majuli district of Assam, the Mishing tribe faced the challenge of educating their children and giving them a bright future. In a place where people find their abodes disappearing into the river water after each monsoon, when survival itself remains a big question, educating children did not figure too high on the list of priorities.

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But, social workers and the local community braved all the natural hazards and barriers and decided to start an English-medium school that is today responsible for educating hundreds of children in and around Majuli. Started in 2006, the school is now known as Ebion Public School and is striving to give better education and facilities to the kids in Majuli.

Challenges due to floods and storms

Not everything is hunky dory with the state of the school. The school now faces a major problem with lack of funds and infrastructure to keep going. The abundant rains make the thatched bamboo walls and tin-made roofs a struggle to work with, and the state of the school lies on thin ground.

Just this July, the waters of the river Brahmaputra wreaked havoc on this island town, when many homes and a few schools were eroded due to the floods.


Luckily for Ebion, the school lies on a higher ground, which pretty much saved it from disappearing into the flood waters. The school, however, has been severely affected by the rains every year.

“The school has so much talent, but is now chained by lack of necessities and good education. This talent can really reach its true potential if nurtured by the right and experienced hands,” says Bipin Dhane, an IIT-Kharagpur graduate, who’s currently working with Ebion Public School.

Giving us further insight on the state of the school during rains he says, “Last year, a storm blew away half the school and the school was rebuilt with the help of some parents and teachers. Most of the students come from villages that are more than 10-15km away, by crossing two or three rivers. And during floods, the roads become inaccessible and students had to be brought in with boats,” says Bipin.

The students at Ebion find the place a refuge form all the hardships and struggles that they face at home. Parents often ask them to stay back at home to work in the fields, sometimes even on the days of examinations. For someone who cannot afford to spare time for studies at home, Ebion has become a home away form home, where they can spend time learning, studying and interacting with other students.

Families in Majuli stay in one-roomed houses, which doesn't provide the environment to study and the students usually prefer to spend more time at the school. Also, the most of the students have to travel a lot of distance or stay at relatives' places to attend school. But this does little to deter them form attending school.

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Progress so far

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Bipin works with the Society for Promotion of Tribal Welfare and Development (SPTWD), a Delhi-based charitable society engaged in women and child focus education, which is currently managing the operations of the school. The society took over the responsibility of the school in January 2014, and has ever since put its efforts into raising funds for the school.

When SPTWD took over, the school was on the verge of closing down with the then strength of 200. The new management has been instrumental in bringing in new life and the much needed structure to the school. Currently, the school is 333-students strong with 14 teaching and two non-teaching staff. The school is currently teaching students up to class 10.

SPTWD has since tried to improve the conditions of the school by introducing small changes to the functioning of the school, such as developing a school calendar, forming a core team, recruiting and training teachers and helping the core team monitor work according to their plan of action.

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Initiatives for students and teachers alike

The new management has also made efforts to better educate the children by training the staff and students alike, through programmes like Teachers Professional Development (TPD) and Comprehensive School Assessment (CSA), by bringing in help from external organisations like Teach for India and other organisations from Mumbai and Bengaluru.

With the help of external organisations, the new management is also providing scholarships for poor children, in addition to raising funds to provide nutritional support to students. The school, in association with The Sun Bird Trust, Bengaluru, has extended the nutrition support programme to 60 students from villages living in the vicinity of the school. This programme has helped children consume nutritious food like egg, fruit and other items at least once a week and help improve their diet and health.

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Future plans

In its attempt to educate and nurture the children of this island town of Assam, Ebion Public School is actively raising funds and finding ways to provide better facilities to the children of Majuli. The school is looking to improve the current infrastructure of thatched bamboo and tin sheets, which is highly susceptible to the floods and storms.

The school is raising funds through crowdfunding and hopes to someday build a hostel with the funds raised through various campaigns launched by SPTWD.

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