Students of John Scottus Senior School, Dublin, at work in Raotora, 230km from Calcutta. Pictures by Rana Ghosh
Barikul (Bankura), April 6: Children from Ireland lent their hand in building a village school in Bengal with money they had raised selling cakes, pastries and craft work.
A local NGO, which runs the only school in 5km at Raotora, a tribal village 230km from Calcutta, had sought help from several quarters of the administration to construct a proper building. But none came its way in five years.
The group of 27 from John Scottus Senior School, Dublin, dug the soil, laid bricks, mixed concrete and bent rods.
When Grainne King, David Flaherty, Matthew Pierce, Fiona McGrath and their friends left Bankura after a fortnight in February, the school had been built up to the lintel level with the Rs 10 lakh they had raised around 8,500km away.
One of the Dubliners, 17-year-old David, said it was his “dream” to be part of such a project.
He had heard that “the little students are facing difficulty without a building”.
“I sold pastries on the streets and washed cars to raise money for the school. Now that I have been able to take part in its construction, I feel very happy,” David said.
Teacher John Alexander had led the Dublin team, which included 14 girls. They worked from 8am to 2pm everyday with a 30-minute break for lunch at 11.
The students, who had put up in a nearby lodge, ate rice, bread, mashed potatoes with peas, soup, boiled vegetables and pulses.
Tarun Dutta of the NGO Khejuria Welfare Society said: “We could not construct a building on our own for lack of funds. But we had made several appeals to the district administration.”
The NGO finally sought help from Loreto Day School, Sealdah. The school got in touch with John Scottus, whose students have been coming to Bengal over the past few years as part of their social service projects. They have helped repair and rebuild schools in the South and North 24-Parganas and Darjeeling.
Project leader Alexander said every final-year student of the school has to raise funds for the project.
“For the Raotora school, our students had started raising funds last year. Our students sold cakes, pastries and craft work during Christmas and washed cars,” said Alexander. “Our students had raised Rs 10 lakh.”
Before travelling to Bankura, the schoolchildren went to Patra in South 24-Parganas to construct a government-sponsored primary school building jointly with the local panchayat and Loreto.
They had raised Rs 3.85 lakh for this project.
The Dublin school had approached Loreto Day School principal Sister M. Cyril with the intent to work in schools in rural Bengal during her visit to Ireland in 2001.
The project co-ordinator, science teacher of Loreto Day School Avijit Majumder, said: “We receive requests for financial help to erect or repair school buildings from rural Bengal through the year. We shortlist them after a survey and send the names to Dublin.”
School education minister Partha De denied that such efforts highlighted the government’s indifference to the plight of village schools.
“We, too, allot funds for repair and renovation of schools,” he said.