School Dropouts Become Angels of Change.
A unique experiment in channelizing youth energy for developing the society. K,a Thomas director Institution for Culture And Rural Development Baghchung jorhat, Assam has undertaken this unique enterprise and has shaped the life of thousands of youngsters in the North East.
In 2002 Fr. Thomas started a training centre for school dropouts, called Karsang Takar. Every year, we get 20 young adults, both boys and girls, to train them for one full year in personal, social, cultural and spiritual development.
When these school dropouts come to us, the adolescent boys and girls are shy, timid, uncouth, with unkempt hair and dirty clothes. Possessing nothing, and not knowing much of body care, all of them appear unwelcome in society. They come to us after grade VIII. But they know nothing. They have been to school, only in name. You may call them “at-risk-youth”. They have idled away their time, playing cards and drinking rice beer. They are failures in everything. Frustration and hopelessness is written large on their faces. Every tribal community in Northeast India boasts of an insurgent organization. Our at-risk young people tend to land up in insurgency organizations, for want of other options.
Within three months of the training, these young people are totally changed, and they speak a different jargon. They begin to say: we will help transform our society. I call these dropouts angels of change. They become like angels. Burt we give them an experience of spirituality. We give them the most professional training, including three months of short courses in Assam Agricultural university, Rain Forest Research Institute and North East Institute for Science and Technology. We invite professionals to train them in life skills.
After one year, these 20 angels of change are sent as interns to 40 new villages, to sow the first seeds of development. I sent them to break grounds, to clear the jungles. Initially, they are opposed and persecuted by local people, suspecting them for their good behavior. But they hold on, and by the end of six months, they have won over the 40 villages. When they finally leave after six months, people stand in line on streets crying. With 305 school dropouts in the last 16 years, I have reached 500 new villages.
If that is not enough, the young leaders, after their ‘professional’ training in culture and arts have travelled to Delhi, Mumbai, Benares, Gujarat, Kolkata and parts of Northeast India to put up performances invited by Sangeet Natak Akademy and by the Ministry of Culture. Today our young people are called ‘cultural ambassadors’. Today, these dropouts are the chief players of “Jorhat’s Own Annual Tourism Festival”.
When this village experience is over, we give to the school dropouts a further training in a vocational skill of their choice, like welding, carpentry, motor mechanics, driving, sewing, embroidery, fashion or beauty care. Finally they are given the tools of the trade that they learned to establish a business enterprise in their village. If someone wants to or is capable of going ahead in their academic career, they are assisted too. One Puspalata Mili, who once was a dropout before grade 10, has today a Master’s degree in communication and Journalism. Another is a full fledged GNM nurse. There are others who have completed their bachelors degrees.
All of them can now stand on their feet. The entire process, that we call ‘journeying with the young’, is given free, so that they will become angels of change in their society. If it takes a village to educate a child, we believe iit takes one youngster to change a village. It is happening. The young, even though they are dropouts, have been transformed to make a difference.