The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Sign of a greater cause, in touch with times

Chowhati, in South 24-Parganas, is about a half-hour drive beyond Santoshpur, on the EM Bypass. The area now has roads, safe drinking water and electricity. Even a decade ago, however, it didn’t have these necessities. It has a school, too. And playing an instrumental part in the progress is the Lions Club of Calcutta Greater, with the determination of the members driving the development for three decades.

The Lions Greater Vidya Mandir is their point of pride, having been judged the best Lions Signature Project in India, and one of the best in Asia. The co-educational English-medium school, tucked away in a corner, surrounded by greens with a pond nearby, was started for village children in 2000, and is now a mainstream institution.

Currently, there are 128 youngsters, from nursery to Class V, with Class VI to be added in the next academic session. The aim is ICSE/ISC affiliation, up to Class XII. There is a library, computer room and a playground, and even a bus service, with plans for a lab and other facilities. And the fee structure is kept to the “minimum” — Rs 1,500 for admission, Rs 1,000 security deposit, Rs 1,000 sessions fee and Rs 250 tuition fee.

“There are a lot of middle-class Bengali families living here, who want a good education for their children, but can’t afford the expensive schools in Calcutta,” says principal Rupa Singh Deo. “A lot of people can’t sustain the rising real estate prices and living costs in the city, and are forced to move out into the suburbs. We are catering to them.”

Vidya Mandir is an “alternative to the Bengali-medium schools in the area”. The ex-La Martiniere for Girls teacher observes that “there are even a few children of returned NRI parents on the rolls”. Managed by the Lions Calcutta Greater Education Trust, the school has already had over Rs 1.25 crore invested in it, with some financial help from the Lions Club International Foundation.

Apart from academics, extracurricular activities, from sports to elocution, often involving the community, are the strengths of the school. This month, there was an arts and crafts event, with a sit-and-draw competition for over 800 children on the school grounds. On December 14 is a village fair, for kids and adults.

Visiting the school this week was Tae Sup Lee, Lions Club International president, on his second trip to the city, taking time out from his busy schedule of meeting the governor and the chief minister. His word on the school was: “They are doing good work, and I am very happy with the result.”

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