Poor kids from the slums of the city have their own “Iron Man” to help them fulfil their dreams.
A 56-year-old engineer from Paris has raised money to enable 120 children from the slums of Kolkata to pursue sports and music.
Xavier Houot participated in the Ironman Challenge, a triathlon race organised by the World Triathlon Corporation. A triathlon is an endurance multisport race consisting of swimming, cycling, and running over various distances.
In the triathlon held in Spain in May, Houot swam in the Mediterranean Sea for 3.8km, cycled for 180kms and then ran for 42kms.
Houot completed all three tasks in 12 hours and 14 minutes and raised Euro 18,000 (around Rs 16 lakh) for the kids in Kolkata.
More than 8,000km from Kolkata at Mallorca Island in Spain, his motivation, he said, was the messages he got on his mobile phone from the children at Calcutta Rescue, a Kolkata-based NGO.
“The children live in the slums but have a hunger in them to grow. I am admirative of their resilience,” Houot told The Telegraph over the phone from Paris.
Houot came to know about the NGO from support groups active in various other countries. The money that he raised through support groups and individual donors in Canada, the UK and other places helped the 120 children pursue sports and music more professionally for a year.
About 70 children are taking football classes, 30 are taking chess lessons and another 20 are pursuing musical instruments.
The funds in the first year are also being used to buy equipment and musical instruments.
It was in 2022 that Houot decided to take the Ironman Challenge, a triathlon race organised by the World Triathlon Corporation.
“I know how fortunate I have been. As early as five or six in school and to be exposed to numerous sports. Likewise, music was part of the curriculum... exposed to instruments. I would love each Calcutta Rescue children to be allowed to experience such joy,” Houot said.
The senior vice president of a multinational company started rigorous training 10 months before the race.
“I had done marathons before and I am a swimmer but participating in the Ironman Challenge would require more strength and fitness. I would try to find more time during the weekends,” he said.
It included long cycling sessions, strength training and swimming for 90 minutes twice a week.
Swimming in the sea meant he had to be able to take the lashing waves.
“Since it was a bay area the waves were fairly gentle but unlike a swimming pool, you cannot see underwater,” he said.
Houot credits his performance to his commitment to raising money so that the kids could do sports and music.
Ananya Chatterjee, school administrator at Calcutta Rescue, said: “There were students who expressed their interest in joining sports. I had mentioned that in a meeting and it reached him and he said he would raise the money for the kids.”
Chatterjee said that music and sports helped keep the children away from their often disturbing family circumstances and engaged them in doing something worthwhile.
“They want to learnand have an interest in it but cannot afford to do it on their own because they do not have access to training,” said Chatterjee.
Houot was in Kolkata last month and spent some time interacting with the kids. The kids made it possible for him to finish the challenge.
“I felt galvanised. I believe I was better than I should have been. I thought of them (the kids) a thousand times. They have been in my thoughts from start to finish,” he said.
LED street lights in Bhowanipore
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation will upgrade the street lights along various in Bhowanipore.
The civic body will start the replacing street lights on Nandan Road, Beni Nandan Road, School Row, Kansaripara Road, Turf Road and Dhirendra Nath Ghosh Road.
New LED lights will be fitted on the street poles.
The work will cost about Rs 4.98 lakh.
The civic body has invited bids for the work.