Published in The Value Age
21 June 2003
By Dipanita Nath
Though situated cheek by jowl against similar unpainted buildings, it is difficult to miss the Samaritan Help Mission at Noor Md Munshi Lane, Tikiapara, Howrah. A line of tiny tots, neatly attired albeit in cloths that have seen better days, inevitably signals the landmark building flanking a byland. This is where Mr Mamoon Akhtar, Mr Shah Alam and thee other invested all their savings to chase a dream.
Their mission was rescuing the people of neighbouring localities from the clutches of drug traffickers and crime lords, increasing health awareness and civic responsibility besides making women and children self-sufficient.
The multi-pronged objective could be reached through a single method. “Education alone can cure social ills,” states Mr Akhtar, director of the NGO. A Herculean task given that Mr Akhtar works as a librarian in a school nearby and his associates too aren’t very affluent. Though short of finances and other resources the Samaritan Help Mission has made steady progress.
Education is imparted in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali and students are admitted to schools in the locality. “Our students are made up of children of drug traffickers and alcoholics, poverty-stricken girls and boys, school drop-outs and even domestic help who want to know more,” says Mr Akhtar.
All this in three shifts extending from the morning till late in the evening in a classroom that measures less than 600 sq ft with no shutters in the windows. “The open windows will pose a big problem when the monsoon arrives.” he says.
His concern about the rainy season temporarily replaces an equally disturbing problem about the school having no toilets.
The Samaritan Help Mission admits students into class one or class two directly. The syllabus comprises alphabets and numbers until the student is ready to graduate to a more formal school. Improvisation suffices when difficulties arise. “Students of both classes in a particular shift, occupy the same classroom. Students of one class write while the other repeats lessons verbally,” he says even as eyebrows rise in curiosity. The teachers are women graduates from the locality. “These girls render their services voluntarily, and are paid Rs 100 every month as honorarium.” he says.
Mr. Akhtar and his colleagues are often reduced to blackmailing parents in order to get the children enrolled in school. “This happens when people come to us with the problem of civic amenities like lack of water supply. We assure them of getting the corporation to lay a water pipe only on the condition that they send their children to school,” he says. It always works. The NGO can now boast more then 300 students. Another notable point is that admission is granted only if mothers accompany their children. “It is more effective that way.” says Akhtar. The Samaritan Help Mission also arranged counseling centres for women, a task that came under criticism from several religious leaders. “We render our services based on need, not creed.”
When it was time to hard-sell projects like pulse polio, we enlisted the help of mauls at the mosque as well as priests of the temple. Despite that we found that four children had not been given the polio drops. We fetched them from their homes personally for the medicine.” says Mr. Akhtar. Local goons have learnt to leave the NGO alone as have politicos. Tales of success alone explain where the NGO gets its strength to carry on. Children maintain a regular attendance and are performing well even at their formal school. Drug trafficking may not have been checked, but the new generation will never get involved.
A former smuggler, who once earned more than Rs 50,000, has now quit in favour of the straight and narrow. But the NGO’s dream is far from fulfilled. “Its a hurdle to the tune of Rs 27,000 per month that stands in the way of a complete change.” says Mr. Akhtar. Anyone listening???
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127, Noor MD Munshi Lane,