On December 6, 2017, while most of us were busy planning our Christmas and new year’s celebrations, the members of Panacea, an NGO run by college students residing in Kolkata, were on a different mission. Carrying 311 books, 130 sweaters, 260 copies and over 500 articles of stationery, four of them boarded a train from Howrah station bound for Nagrakata in the Jalpaiguri district.
The members on this excursion were Arup Ganguly, Ranadip Som, Utsav Chatterjee and Somak Sanyal. They were the proverbial Santa Clauses for over 130 students of Rose Land Primary School. They had decided to embark upon this trip after initially been contacted by Jaya Toppo, daughter of the founder of the school, Ajita Toppo to spread cheer and joy among her students.
The team reached their destination, Malbazar Station in Jalpaiguri to meet the driver waiting for them. They drove for 21 kms to a hotel which had been graciously booked for them beforehand by the school authorities. By the time they kept their belongings in their rooms and got ready, it was 11 am.
Enthusiasm fully intact even after the long journey, they decided to go directly to the school as the students and staff were already there, it being a school day. There they met Miss Jaya Toppo and introduced themselves formally for the first time. “Jaya Toppo related to us the struggles they went through while establishing the school and how they got to their present situation” explained Somak. They were told that the children were already waiting for them in the library.
They interacted with the students most of whom were seeing people from a city for the first time. They started talking and the children soon got over their inhibitions. “The school staff are very hardworking and dedicated towards the well-being of the kids” observes Utsav Chatterjee, a veteran of Panacea. This was his fifth event on behalf of the organisation.
The school taught students from classes nursery to the fourth standard. After a lengthy discussion, where both parties learnt more of how the other half lives in India, school got over at 12 pm and the group returned to their hotel, getting a grim idea of the situation these kids were facing and the mammoth task ahead of them.
The next day they distributed the things they had brought among the students. Having no idea about the convention of getting gifts on Christmas before, the children were ecstatic. They eagerly examined their newly acquired possessions and craned over to see their neighbours’. A smile was permanent on everyone’s faces, be it student teacher or our Santa Clauses.
After the hubbub had died down a bit, the members held different workshops for the day, to keep the festive spirit alive. Classes 3 and 4 got a math workshop, Class 2 had a quiz, and the smaller students had an interactive session where they were encouraged to ask any questions.
The children really relished this escape from the monotony of their everyday life. Their eyes sparkled and teeth flashed in joy. The group felt that the day had been a success. “For me, this was one heck of an experience which is to be cherished for a long time,” proclaims Ranadip Shom.
The next day the group saw a different problem that the school was facing, the condition of the latrines there were very poor. Remodeling work had started to improve them, but had never been completed due to financial constraints. The members were so appalled by this that they then and there decided to sponsor its completion. They reasoned that basic sanitary needs were essential for any school to function properly.
Their final good deed of the year completed, the team returned the next day, feeling the warmth in their hearts of a real accomplishment, spreading the Christmas Cheer. “Thanks to Panacea for letting me represent them in such a beautiful event,” concluded Arup Ganguly.