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Up in the Singalila Ridge bordering Nepal and India, lies the quiet little village of ‘Dhotre’ in West Bengal, India. It overlooks the ‘Sleeping Buddha’, a series of 8 peaks in the Eastern Himalayas around Mt. Kangchen Dzö-nga that resembles a supine human figure. Situated in the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, it bears a significant political history involving the demands of an independent state of ‘Gorkhaland’.
At an altitude of nearly 8800 ft, the nights are filled with biting cold. People huddle around fire and makeshift ovens. The construction of these ovens is simple yet highly ingenious. An iron cylinder placed over burning coal allows air to pass and burn the coal uniformly. It keeps the entire room and people sitting around it warm. The days are filled with hard work, simply to achieve a bare minimum standard of living.
Such a village has dared to dream – a school named Blossom that has raised the hope for a better future. 3 of the villagers – Sushil Rai, Sangeeta Pradhan and Chinju Sherpa are the staff today, doubling up as teachers and support personnel. Today the fight continues with not having enough teachers, rooms being shared for classes and an absolute minimum of stationeries and study material. Amidst this colossal struggle, the teachers manage to hold exams and promote students. Currently the school offers classes till the 7th standard. Children wishing to continue studies have to go ‘Manebhanjyang’ for further studies. Manebhanjyang is about 19kms from Dhotre – a distance which is not possible for kids to travel both ways everyday to attend school. As a result, children in Classes 8th to 12th have to rent houses and stay together. Often it is just one room with 3 beds and a small, makeshift kitchen. They have an extreme hard life, as they have to cook, keep their house and attend school from such a young age. Today, there is a lot of doubt and a lot of uncertainties to carry on… but there is also hope in many a Dhotre home, for their kids to cross the bridge and step into light.
They need our help. Currently, a group of individuals from Kolkata, India (including myself) are working with the villagers to form a trust that can collect funds and donations to help the school. The long term target is to enable the school stand on its feet so that the students can look to give 10th standard board exams from here one day. It is an attempt to improve the economic condition of the village through education.
This is a project in progress.
Photographs & Text: Avishek Biswas
Camera: Canon 5D