Building a Better Kailash

$9,450 of $9,000 goal

Raised by 110 people in 20 months
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On the corner of a busy intersection in Kolkata sits Kailash Vidyamandir.  Kailash is an all-boys primary school and a co-ed secondary school that serves 700 students.  It’s been on that same corner for 167 years offering an opportunity for the poorest students of Kolkata to receive an education. The school is led by Biswajit Mitra, a man with a golden heart and an unparalleled commitment to education. Despite all the challenges that come with his job, Principal Mitra is one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever met. He has something special to share about each student (“Akash is an amazing dancer,” “Babusona has lovely handwriting,” “Nandi is a strong football player”) as well as each alumnus who comes back to the school to pay their respects.  A few quick facts about Principal Mitra: He sometimes sleeps in his office to do morning exercises with the boys, he spends his weekends at education conferences, and is constantly trying to improve his school.  In his 16 years as headmaster, he righted a school that was sinking fast, hired exceptional teachers, created the first dorm at a public school in Kolkata, and built a tight-knit community.

Supporting the principal is an incredible staff.  Many of them could be elsewhere.  As an example, the school’s head-warden, Sona Da, was a highly respected lawyer in Chetla (the neighborhood where Kailash is located).  He was retired, but at the Principal’s urging, he joined the school. He now puts in 12-hour days making sure the 100 students who live in the dorm are fed, dressed up to standard, and healthy.  Side note: he is also one of the flyest dressers of all time. The other staff at the school are excellent as well.  There’s our security guard, Subrata, who doubles as the carpenter and the “dorm mother,” Tanusree, who is mischievous and likes to play pranks.  No one is going through the motions at Kailash—they are working with a purpose.

Then there are the teachers, most of whom have been at Kailash for years.  The school has teachers like Sharmila who spends her own money to take students on field trips and Dolly who gives out storybooks to the top preformers on her exams.  The teachers at Kailash deal with irregular student attendance, lack of teaching resources, and are faced with classrooms that have drastic discrepancy in student aptitude.  Teaching at Kailash is not easy, but the staff is ready to go six days a week.

Finally, there are the students of Kailash.  They are curious, intelligent, aspirational, and loving.  They are a tight-knit group—older students look out for the younger ones, they share everything, and while there are arguments, they’re only short-lived.  They’re great kids on their way to becoming great adults.

All of this positivity and good vibes is against a stark backdrop.

Kailash’s students come from the most disadvantaged communities in Kolkata and the surrounding provinces.  They come almost exclusively from the 25% of families in West Bengal who live below the poverty line, subsisting on less than $1.90 a day. They are all first-generation learners, the first in their families to read and write.  15 students in the dorm are orphans, and many other students are missing a parent.  Some students face food insecurity, while others face housing insecurity, and some face both.  Some students have been physically abused others are pulled out of school to help harvest crops or to work to support their family, missing weeks of school at a time.  When some students walked into Kailash to start 5th grade it was their first time entering a school. 

Kailash is a government school.  All its funding comes from the West Bengal government, and due to the state of the West Bengal economy coupled with the type of students Kailash serves, funds are scarce. Furthermore, the school takes in less money than it might due to Principal Mitra’s admirable decision to waive the 250 rupee ($5) annual admission fee because it would be too costly for many students.  The school is weathered from years of neglect. Key pieces of infrastructure are worn down or missing altogether.

Kailash is lucky because it has all the things that money can’t buy—a strong principal, caring staff, and teachers that are exceptional. However, Kailash is in dire need of some infrastructural upgrades, and that is why I’m reaching out to you all for help.  I sat down with Principal Mitra and asked him to come up with a list of what he thought his school needed most.  The list was 17 items long, but he trimmed it to the most important items—a wish list that can be made a reality for just $5,000.  Below you can find the final list which includes creating a school library, upgrading the school’s bathrooms, and adding fans to classrooms.  We aren’t talking about adding Smart Boards or fancy language software. Instead, we’re talking about essential and long overdue infrastructure that the school badly needs and that will immediately improve the quality of students’ lives and education.

                                                              The Wish List

15 Ceiling Fans:

Why?: During monsoon season the weather in Kolkata is sweltering.  From May to October it’s rarely cooler than 90 degrees (but it feels more like 110+ when you factor in humidity).  About half the classrooms in Kailash do not have fans.  The addition of fans to these classrooms will be a game changer, not just for the students, but also for the teachers that teach in the classrooms.  Imagine trying to concentrate in 110-degree weather…

Cost: $30 per fan- Total $450


(Classroom missing a fan)

Bathroom Improvements:

Why?: The bathroom situation at Kailash is a major problem.  The stalls are doorless, leaving students with no privacy when they want to use the bathroom.  There is a pipe in the center of the bathroom floor that constantly leaks creating a layer of dirty water that students must walk through to use the facilities.  Depending on which way the wind is blowing, the smell of the bathroom can stink up the entire first floor.  The bathroom has not been renovated in years, and it was never designed for the traffic that it gets now that the school has 100+ full-time boarding students.  As Principal Mitra explained to me, what concerns him most is that the more time the bathroom goes without being repaired, the greater the physical damage becomes and the more, it will cost to repair the facilities whenever they finally receive the funds.

Cost: $3000 (New bathroom doors, new tiling, no funky pipe, and expansion of shower facilities)


(Shower Facility)


(Leaking sewage pipe-bathrooms on the right side)

Library:

Why?: My students do not have access to books outside of their government-issued lesson books.  They also do not have a quiet place to study or think.  A library has been a dream of my principal since he came to the school, but due to funding constraints, he’s never been able to get it off the ground.  Over the past weeks, with consultation from the wonderful folks at Room to Read, I’ve worked with the principal to conceptualize a new library.  We’ve created an outline of the library’s layout as well as discussed how library time can be regularly incorporated into our student’s schedules. A library will make a huge difference in the educational lives of Kailash’s students.

Cost:  $1100 (Bookshelves, reading chairs, and 500 books at appropriate reading levels)


(Future Library!)

Murals:

Why?:  Principal Mitra loves murals.  He thinks they’re a great way to liven up the school and inspire the students.  For the last couple of years he has applied to have murals done at the school through a government program, but our school hasn’t been chosen. Luckily, my incredible fellow Fulbrighter, Conor Coleman, is a talented muralist and has agreed to spend a week at my school after our program finishes in April to cover as many walls as possible with murals.  As an added bonus the school has already identified students that are interested in painting and who will take ownership of the project with Conor.

Cost: $300 (Covering the cost of the paint)


White Board:

Why?:  Some NGOs work with our students after school, meeting with them to do activities ranging from Mexican art workshops to singing classes.  A large whiteboard would help these NGOs with their programming.

Cost: $50 (with many pens)


Waste Bins:

Why?:  There are no garbage bins in our school which means trash is either left on tables, on the floor or tossed out classroom windows.  Waste bins in classrooms would keep the school cleaner and help students get in a good habitat of depositing their trash properly.

Cost: $100 (a waste bin for every classroom)


I cannot explain how much it would mean to the school if we can raise this money—not just to get these major improvements done, but because it will show everyone at my school that people all over the world are rooting for them.  Please, even if it is five dollars, consider donating to help a wonderful community and improve the educational experience of some fantastic kids.

Thank you and much love,

David & Kailash Vidyamandir

 




NOTE: All views and opinions expressed in this post are my own and do not represent USIEF, the Fulbright program, or the U.S Department of State. 

NOTE: A word about accountability—anyone that donates will receive a document with every receipt for every dollar spent.  Corruption is very real in India, and I want everyone who donates to know that your money went directly to the improvements listed above.
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Hey Folks,

You all should have received an email from me with a report on what has taken place at Kailash over the past few months. If for some reason you didn't receive my email, please cut and paste the web address below into your browser to read the update.

https://buildingabetterkailash.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/big-changes-come-to-kailash/

Thanks again and looking forward to writing you all again soon with more news.

David
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16 days, $8,465, 87 donors and now just 24 hours left to give! Thank you to those who have supported the campaign. Initial estimates on the bathroom repairs and library look higher than expected, so we’ll need all the help we can get.
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I made homemade chocolate chip cookies for our classroom holiday party. They were well received.
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I’m happy to report that we’ve now blown past my original fundraising goal and are currently sitting at $6,738 thanks to 72 amazing people. We’re now less than $1,000 shy of the new $7,500 goal, which will help fund additional items on Kailash’s wish list.
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From my first day of class my students have asked me questions about American food. I've showed them photos of bagels, pancakes and milkshakes, but a few weeks ago I arranged to take a group of students on a field trip to Sienna Café to try some “American” fare themselves. A major thank you to Shuli and the amazing Sienna staff for taking such good care of us—we sampled strawberry smoothies, grilled cheese sandwiches, French fries, pizza, and avocado salad. After a tightly contested vote my students awarded first prize to the strawberry smoothies with French fries coming in a close second. Avocado salad proved to be the most polarizing item we ate. A few students told me afterwards that the avocado was their new favorite fruit while others picked at their salad while making faces of disgust.

Over the past few months, I’ve led my students on a number of field trips and have seen how beneficial it is to expose them to new environments and experiences. Apart from a yearly government-sponsored picnic, my students currently do not have many opportunities to leave Chetla, the community where Kailash is located. With the additional money we are raising through the fundraiser, we will be able to fund trips to museums, parks, and events that my students would otherwise not have access to.
Cheers to our 72 amazing donors!
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After eight days and 57 generous contributions our fundraising campaign has reached its $5,000 goal. I’m humbled, grateful, and excited to put the money to use to help improve Kailash. Principal Mitra and I already have a date next Friday to go fan shopping, I’m pumped. As I mentioned in my original post, the items listed in the fundraiser represented only a portion of the many things Kailash needs. Since there has been such incredible momentum behind this campaign, I want to raise the fundraising goal to $7,500 in hopes that we will be able to provide additional crucial upgrades to the school. Next up on Kailash’s wish list are art supplies, money for field trips, and dorm improvements. I’ll post more detailed descriptions about these wish list items in the coming days, but for now let’s celebrate today’s amazing achievement!
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$9,450 of $9,000 goal

Raised by 110 people in 20 months
No Longer Accepting Donations
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Created February 14, 2017
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$25
Anonymous
19 months ago
$50
Anonymous
19 months ago
KD
$50
Kathleen Driscoll
19 months ago

David, I know this is the beginning of a life of fundraising for the many causes you will take on. Your heart is big, your mama and papa taught you well.Love you Beastie Boy!

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