The life of a teacher in Assam’s Bajali district is a lesson in itself on how his mission to help the abandoned has transformed the lives of numerous specially-able children for the better.
From being dismissed by neighbours as a ‘lunatic’ initially to being selected for this year’s National Teachers’ Award, Kumud Kalita’s relentless mission of giving a home and education to these children has drawn praise from diverse quarters.
A teacher in Pathsala Senior Secondary School, 59-year-old Kalita runs an orphanage-cum-day care centre for children with special needs, registered under the name ‘Tapoban’.
Built on land donated by Kalita with an investment of all his earnings and savings, there are about 25 children in the institution, while nearly 90 others with various disabilities from nearby areas attend the daycare facility.
“When I had set about to form ‘Tapoban’, many people laughed me off as a lunatic. But now, I am getting help from all quarters. We have patrons who visit us regularly and help in meeting the financial requirements,” Kalita told PTI over the phone from New Delhi, where he received the award from President Doupadi Murmu.
The idea of helping abandoned or orphaned children with special needs germinated in Kalita’s mind when he was pursuing his post-graduation at Gauhati University and came in contact with organisations helping such children.
“People are willing to help physically and mentally sound children, but the same acceptance is missing for the specially-abled ones. Hence, I am trying to do my bit for them,” he said.
The first child that Kalita and his wife took in was a two-year girl with cerebral palsy, who was abandoned at the foothills of Kamakhya temple in Guwahati in 2009.
He travelled from Pathsala to Guwahati, a distance of over 100 km, and brought home the baby, naming her Kamakshi.
“She is 16 years old now and stays with me and my wife. Shristi, as we call her, needs constant attention as she cannot do even the simplest things herself. But we are glad to have her in our life,” Kalita said.
He added that though confined to a wheelchair, Kamakshi wanted to go to the national capital to cheer for him and it took much convincing to leave her behind.
Kalita said 13 children from Tapoban have also been legally adopted by different people, including one child being taken to Europe by the adopted parents.
Besides helping the children learn to perform their daily activities, formal education is also imparted to them.
“Children staying or learning in Tapoban have been appearing for matriculation examinations for the last few years. Some of them have successfully passed the exam too,” Hiren Kalita, a local resident associated with the institution, said.
“As people from the area, we are proud of what Kalita is doing and we also chip in with our bit,” he added.
Tapoban provides all forms of care, including early intervention, physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, Braille education, and training in music and yoga.
Even as praise and recognition started coming in for Tapoban over the last few years, the initial period was challenging for Kalita, especially in meeting financial requirements.
Hailing from a humble family of farmers, Kalita worked in a restaurant to meet his university education expenses. He went about selling books from door to door even after joining the job as a teacher to save enough for his dream project.
Along with Tapoban, Kalita has also built a library that annually organises a week-long book reading programme in January to encourage youths to read books. Kalita’s efforts have also received adulation in the form of different awards, including the Best Community Action Award by the chief minister of Assam, Rotary Vocational Excellence Award, Sushibrata Roychoudhury Memorial Award, State Level Best Teacher Award and the Children Champion Award by Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights.
He has also been associated with organisations dealing with child rights issues and hopes of forming a centre for elderly people with special needs.