One school leader’s mission to educate orphan children in rural Odisha

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Atmika English Medium School

He is a teacher by profession, and social work is his passion – two fields that are often associated with one another. When one of his three daughters was born blind, Rabin Kumar Lima started working as a social worker to help the population of young people with disabilities. “I started Atmika Trust in her name in 2009. Civic issues, problems faced by differently-abled children in the education sector, and education and literacy are the key issues that we focus on here,” a proud father and social worker in his underdeveloped village, Muniguda, voiced with pride. Atmika English Medium School was started in a small building with only seven orphan children in 2010 with the idea of creating a safe environment for kids who desired to study and achieve something in life. They were given shelter as well, free of cost.

Rabin Kumar Lima, Atmika English Medium School

It cannot be denied that the entirety of education is moving towards grades and away from growth and development. Rabin’s goal was to influence the lives of orphans and underprivileged children to bring about positive change. As the word went around the state, many parents from the hilly regions started sending their children to the newly ventured school hoping that they would be empowered and equipped with the knowledge, skills and training to survive in the real world. “Parents want quality education and we are providing it. That’s how we became popular in the area. We eventually started charging fees but the purpose remained the same,” Rabin shared. Till date, he hasn’t charged a single penny from the orphan kids.

This small-scale school was based on the patterns of social work schools in India, but it had distinctive features to improve the conditions of educational settings in villages.

Also Read: From Inheriting a School at a young age to Leading the Way

Partnership with Varthana

Just as he thought he couldn’t do any better, he heard about Varthana school loans. “It is very difficult to pay for orphan kids or essential bills when there’s no help available. It is also hard to see teachers being underpaid for such incredible jobs they do,” he voiced his disappointment recalling a time when there was little to no support available. After receiving the finance from Varthana, Rabin undertook structured tasks to improve his school. Desks and furniture were arranged and he was finally able to pay good salaries to the teachers. The school that started with only seven orphan students eventually grew to 240. Today, he offers families quality education at affordable rates and is very active in generating chances for them to serve the community and better their standard of living.

Further, Rabin spoke about his partnership with Varthana. “Varthana has helped us in not only reaching our financial goals but also in accomplishing our educational goals. Both of the organisations are interested in working with children to encourage growth and development of total personalities into their fullest stature,” he said. During COVID-19, however, this idea seemed far-fetched. Rabin explained how most of the children from the hilly areas were unable to continue their studies because their families could not afford mobile phones. “I wanted to help support students’ personal growth, social and emotional development, and academic pursuits even during the lockdown, and Varthana’s Unlock School Program offered the perfect solution at the perfect time.”

“The first thing that parents expect from school is the infrastructure and we are exceeding that expectation. We, at Atmika English Medium School, care about the happiness of our children. It is very important to me that my school is able to create an environment where learning is encouraged and students feel at home away from home.”

“Teachers and I took the initiative to visit each family once a week and hand out homework to the children while simultaneously taking classes at their homes. This method turned out to be better than online classes since we were able to maintain and strengthen our relationships with the students and parents over time,” Rabin discussed the natural learning process that his team made an effort to implement during a hard time.

Learning loss and the COVID-19 effect

Students have fallen behind in Math and reading due to months of unfinished and interrupted learning caused by the pandemic. Apart from losses in academic learning, the well-being of students because of social isolation has been an area of concern. This necessitated the need for relooking at the ways of learner engagement and the role of teachers in Atmika English Medium School. “Now we are trying to find out more ways to fill the gaps and re-engage students with old and new study materials. We are giving extra classes to hostel students after school and tracking the gaps to ensure they are not behind their current grade level,” Rabin noted.

He added, “We are also paying special attention to students whose parents are uneducated. These students are high in number and have no way of receiving the help they require from their parents. So, we are enabling extra classes to make up for the subjects they have missed during the last three years. We have also created groups based on learning capacity and assigned teachers to help learners grow and develop a broad range of old chapters and skills in and outside the classroom.”

As far as admission or dropout matter goes, Rabin says they serve a highly devoted group of parents who have complete faith in them. “One of the most important things parents want from our school is that the teachers should be wonderful. We honoured our commitment, serviced them during the two arduous years of COVID-19, and consistently kept in touch with them to give a follow-up on the learning structure. That’s why we have a full house this year and plan to keep it that way,” he shared ardently.

“In the future, we are planning to expand the school building with Varthana’s help and I am very much encouraged to multiply the number of students in the coming years.”

Rabin Kumar Lima, in addition to running the school and NGO, distributes clothes to windows in the neighbourhood, donates food to families struggling with hunger and gives employment opportunities to young people from tribal areas.

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