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London boost to Toto tradition

Liza sits with an elderly Toto man at the centre on Thursday. Picture by Anirban Choudhury

Alipurduar, May 10: A 24-year-old British woman who visited Totopara almost three years ago, has set up a centre in the area where traditional items of the community will be preserved.

Liza Davies has also decided to start a school at Totopara where children from the community can learn English, Toto and Hindi for free.

Today, the Cultural Heritage and Education Centre was inaugurated at Totopara, 68km from here.

“I visited Totopara in 2009 as a tourist, along with my parents. I had collected some traditional items then. But I saw that most of the Toto people live in pucca houses instead of traditional huts made of thatch and bamboo. It was then that I decided to do something for preserving the tradition of the tribe. I thought of collecting traditional items from the community and open a centre in which they can be preserved. Six months ago, I spoke to the Toto Kalyan Samity and it agreed to co-operate. I will keep a VCD player at the centre that can play videos on the lifestyle of the tribe,” said Liza.Totopara in Madarihat-Birpara block is the only place in the country where people belonging to the primitive Toto tribe stay.

The cost of setting up the centre was borne by Liza and the land was donated by the community.

“I teach the children here English twice a week. When the school starts functioning, local youths will be able to teach them English, Hindi and Toto free of cost,” Liza told The Telegraph over the phone from Totopara.

The history student, who runs an NGO in London, said she had been staying in Totopara for the past six months.

Dhaniram Toto, the president of Toto Kalyan Samity, said: “We have received lot of assurances from administration in last few decades about the development of this place. But nothing has been done. When this girl came up with a proposal to set up the centre, we accepted it. We hope that with Liza, the culture of the community will be known throughout the world. We are really grateful to her. We have extended all kinds of help to her.”