Students Skype with Aussie varsity

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By SAURAV BORA
  • Published 27.04.12
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April 26: The distance separating two groups of students — one in a hamlet on the outskirts of the city and another in Australia — were thousands of miles over ocean and land but they connected in an instant.

In a first-of-its-kind online interaction between a group of 20 post-graduate students of Flinders University, Adelaide, and 15 students of Parijat Academy in Pamohi this morning, the discussion revolved around indigenous communities of Garbhanga near Pamohi and its surroundings and their sources of sustenance and lives.

“During the hourlong interaction that began at 6 this morning on the video chatting site, Skype, the students of Flinders University, who represented nine different countries, wanted to know about the livelihoods of the indigenous communities and how significant were forest-based resources in their lives. Besides, the importance of school education for children of the hamlets in and around Pamohi, was discussed,” Uttam Teron, principal coordinator of Parijat Academy, told The Telegraph.

The academy, opened in 2003 at Teron’s initiative with just four students, currently provides free education to over 550 students, most of whom were school dropouts from nearby Garbhanga — an area around 20km from the city, inhabited by Karbi and Bodo people. The novel project of Teron, who hails from the area, has drawn the attention of national and international organisations.

Udoy Saikia, a teacher at the School of the Environment, Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia, coordinated today’s interaction.

“The need for such an interaction was felt a couple of weeks ago by Udoy Saikia who asked me if I could share information on topics such as primary education, community development and the local environment with students of Flinders University. Saikia, who hails from Jorhat, has been working with us through a South Australian charitable organisation for the past four years,” Teron, attired in a traditional red Karbi jacket during the interaction, said.

The inter-relationship between tribal livelihoods and nature, especially forest, and threats to the community owing to deforestation, man-animal conflicts and wetlands, among others, were also discussed.

Asked about the questions raised by the students of the Australian university, Teron said: “One of them, a female student, had asked me why investors were not attracted to Assam and the Northeast. Another student asked how difficult it was to get funds for the school when it was set up. To the first query, I told them that some areas in the Northeast still lacked connectivity, which affected investment, and to the second, I shared some of my difficulties when I set up the school in a cowshed. I also shared my dream of making all the children of the locality literate.”

Teron also spoke on how the villagers coped with the problem of man-elephant conflict and how youths of hamlets in the vicinity needed to be weaned away from deforestation activities and encouraged to take up agriculture on a small scale.

About the feedback from Australia, Teron said: “Saikia informed me after the interaction that, as a first step, it was fruitful and more interactions needed to be organised in the future. He said the students were eager to come and work in the community sector in Assam.”

Sankar Bongjang, a student of the academy who appeared in the matric exam this year, said: “It was a unique experience. They asked us our names and which classes we were in. Bhal lagil (Loved it). We also sang the song We shall overcome... in unison. They loved it.”