The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A house to build, a dream to nourish
- Dropout shelter for destitute

Dulal Pal, who works in a plastic factory, lives in a rented house with his family. “But Rs 50 a day is not enough for a family of four.” Now, he’s well on his way to seeing his dream come true. At No. 2, Government Colony, Chakpara, in Howrah, work is on at a furious pace for the completion of his house. The builders are a bunch of school dropouts — like 21-year-old Shibani Sarta and 22-year-old Sukanto Adhikary — pursuing careers in construction.

The Don Bosco Self-Employment Research Institute in Howrah is a vocational training centre for those who have left school, or those who have never even been to one. Here, they have the opportunity to enrol in any one of 15 programmes — from pre-school management to tailoring, watch-making to interior decoration. Civil engineering technician training is one such course. The students, who are required to have an academic background till at least Class VIII, are first given a year-long intensive training in English. Then, it’s time for the ICSE, which all they need to do is pass. Then begins the two-year vocational course on construction, which includes teaching the techniques of welding to the details of drawing.

Building a house is part of the practical and social training, explains Brother T.V. Mathew of the Institute. “We scour the area and come up with a list of needy people who don’t have a home. Then, the kids interview them and conduct their own survey, to see who’s most deserving. Thereafter, they do everything, from drawing up the blueprint, digging the foundation to building, painting and plastering. A few teachers or professionals occasionally supervise. But it’s essentially their baby.” As for the costs, “25 per cent we ask of the person whose house is being built. If he is too poor, then he and his family have to lend a helping hand. The materials are sponsored. About Rs 50,000 is the usual budget.”

The current batch of 13 students, including two girls, decided it was time for Dulal Pal’s family to have a home. The land was given by wife Lakshmi’s mother, while the factory-worker managed to put together Rs 10, 000, thanks largely to his brothers and sisters. Lakshmi cooks and feeds the busy builders, Dulal fetches water from the nearby pond, and the couple’s two children, daughter Binita, 13, and son Dipankar, 12, do odd jobs, since it’s “school chhuti”. “I am deeply grateful to these youngsters,” smiles an exhausted but excited Dulal.

The summer heat hasn’t deterred the group from the daily grind of 9 to 5, with an hour’s break for lunch. This has been their self-set routine since May 15. They hope to hand over the keys to the completed house to Dulal on June 7. “The past three days, the heat has been too much. So, our break time has been extended to about two hours,” grins Shibani. “But I love this work.” For her, there was never any confusion. As for being a woman in a man’s world — “It’s the case in any profession. I can do this work and I have my family’s support. That’s enough.” However, she has “demanded” a beauty pack at the end, to assuage her father’s complaints of her getting “too dark”.

For Sukanto, a commerce graduate from Narasingha Dutta College, it was radio that first attracted him. But, acting on advice, he took up construction, and is glad about it. “It is hard work, but building something from scratch on a limited budget is a source of pride,” he says. At the end, they will be graded by their teachers, before two state council exams and the ISC Certificate in Vocational Education exam. Then, these school dropouts will be qualified professionals, to build many more homes and dreams.

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