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Books and beyond, to learn and earn
- Student project to tutor poor kids takes wing

It started as an attempt by school students to reach out to the less fortunate boys who roamed the streets around one of the oldest institutions of learning in the city. In seven short years, a class of eight boys has blossomed into a school for 150, taking on the responsibility of primary education and life skills.

A pilot project launched by Class VIII and IX students of St Xavier’s Collegiate School rapidly grew into a morning school for under-privileged boys between four and 14. As Titli spread its wings, Alumnorum Societas, or Alsoc, the St Xavier’s School alumni association, has adopted the project and now covers the costs for three teachers of the school, books and other infrastructure, including a computer. But the boys of the school are still deeply involved. The syllabus, till Class IV, is taught by three professional coordinators and a squad of 10 students every month.

“First, we had to train the students. But now, they know what to do and use the worksheets we create for them,” explains Krishna Banerjee, a coordinator for the classes held at Soumitra Sadan, in a corner of the school campus.

After the regular classes — including English, Hindi, maths, science, history and geography — till around 12 noon, vocational training sessions take over. Carpentry, sewing, crafts and banner-painting are some of the skills the boys are taught. The bright classroom is dotted with examples of their handiwork.

Titli may soon need to expand. “We hope the number of children will grow, and we will improve the infrastructure when required,” explains a member of the old boys’ association. Now, efforts are on to have the Titli kids enrolled at a night school run at St Xavier’s so that they can continue their education.

“We counsel children and their parents about the need to continue education beyond the primary level,” explains Banerjee. Though the parents are enthusiastic about educating the young kids, as they grow older they are usually expected to supplement the family income. A Titli Endowment Fund has also been started to give scholarships to a few promising students who wish to study further in mainstream city schools. A few students have already been sponsored by this project.

Alsoc has also decided to include healthcare services, including free distribution of medicines. Not only has it made the Titli children virtually “disease free”, it has also started a Sunday clinic, manned by alumni who have gone on to become doctors, for people of the area.

Rural outreach projects, covering awareness campaigns and training sessions for healthcare workers, have succeeded in training at least 2,000 volunteers on critical aspects of neo-natal care. “We want to bring down the mortality rate in the rural areas by reducing the occurrence of preventive diseases,” concludes Noomi Mehta, general secretary, Alsoc.

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