I thought you ought to know why we selected Santiniketan Sishutirtha as the beneficiary of our charity gala premiere of Chitrangada in Brussels on 23 September. 50% of any profits from the evening will go to Sishutirtha.
Sishutirtha has been my favourite charity for a long time. I was a volunteer dance teacher there for the first 2-3 years after it opened and used to help to escort the children on outings to nearby villages. Whenever I have the opportunity, I visit it and the children I’ve watched growing up there.
Sishutirtha as it is today
I filmed the video above on my iPhone when I attended the performance by the Sishutirtha children in December 2011. It was for the 12th anniversary of the inauguration of Sishutirtha.
Shubhradi (Shubhra Tagore – our dance director and production designer for Chitrangada and Chandalika) and Supriyoda (Supriyo Tagore, who also appears in Chitrangada) were among its founders and continue to be involved.
I asked Shubhradi and Supriyoda to explain the background to Santiniketan Sishutirtha. Here is what they said.
“Santiniketan Sishuthirtha was created in order to care for children in the rural areas of Birbhum district, West Bengal, India. The goal is to provide these children with a protected nurturing environment that not only protects them from harsh poverty but also provides them with the skills necessary in order to become self sufficient for the future.
Santiniketan Sishutirtha: the building used for classes, dining and performances
“In 1989, a few like-minded people connected to Visva Bharati, Santiniketan (The University of Rabindranath Tagore) came together and decided that it was their responsibility to do something for their society, and formed an organisation to start and run an orphanage – an orphanage with a difference.
“The Santiniketan Sishutirtha project envisaged a family-like environment for orphaned or destitute children, so that these unfortunate children could get back a ‘home’ that they had lost.
“As far as their education is concerned, we decided to follow the ideals of Rabindranath Tagore, one of the pioneers of education of our time.
“It was a very difficult task for us to obtain 6 acres of land, near Santiniketan on lease from the West Bengal Govt. Then it took us ten long years to collect enough funds to build two cottages and start our venture with 5 children on December 12, 1999.
Pottery made by Sishutirtha children
“We are grateful to all who helped us in our difficult job of raising fund for the orphanage. There are many friends and well-wishers who help us by making donations or by sponsoring children. We acknowledge our indebtedness to all of them.
“At present we have 20 children (10 boys and 10 girls) in the institution, between the ages of 5 and 17. There is a Primary School run by the West Bengal Government in our building and premises. We run the Middle School (Class V- VIII). Tribal children from nearby villages also attend the schools. For Secondary education, children go to a nearby village school.
“We have been able to arrange training for a number of crafts, music and dance. Ceramics, carpentry, weaving, silk-screen printing etc. are taught here.
“Children look-after the vegetable garden. We have started bee-keeping in a small way. A pond has been dug with the help of the Panchayat. In this way we try to give the children a happy and meaningful life.”
The pond at Santiniketan Sishutirtha as it was being dug
During our visit to Sishutirtha in November 2009, we were joined by our friend Séamas McSwiney who spoke to Dipu (Mangaldeep Karmaker). Dipu was one of the 5 children who started going to Sishutirtha when it first opened and who grew up there. As you will see in Séamas’ video below, Dipu’s exposure to arts and crafts at Sishutirtha led to his fascination with computer animation.
Dipu is also a good singer, dancer and actor. He is now studying for a BA in Philosophy at Asutosh College in Kolkata.
The children and their routine
There are 11 boys and 9 girls in the age group of 5 to 18. They all come from very poor families mostly from nearby villages within a radius of 15 km. All of them are destitute orphan children. The children were taken on the recommendations of the village council (Panchayat) after signing a contract between the guardians and Sishutirtha.
Sishutirtha children dancing in a Tagore-style tree-planting procession
On weekdays, the children get up early in the morning, sit for a prayer where they sing a song and sit quietly for two to three minutes facing the rising sun. Then they have a light breakfast, do a little bit of cleaning and gardening. After this they wash and go to school. During tiffin time, the children come back for tiffin and go back to school again.
After school, the children come back for lunch and rest. Some of them use the rest hours for different hobbies. In the afternoon the children go for games. After the games they meet for another prayer after tea. Part of the evenings are spent in singing lessons. The better part of the evening is spent doing homework and crafts. They retire after dinner.
Once in a while they have socials where they recite poems or read out creative writings or dance and sing. They have also staged a number of plays. They are encouraged to do painting, clay modelling, and other crafts. They stage a play, celebrate ‘Tree Planting ceremony’, ‘Spring Festival’, ‘Founders day’ etc.
The teaching techniques are for the most part traditional, following a standardised curriculum in the school. The children have some library time every day and once a week are shown educational videos of all types. In addition, the children are taught singing, dancing (mostly Folk and Tagore-styles), taking care of pets, gardening, painting and pottery. The teachers of the school receive formal training from the West Bengal Board of Education. An extra training consists of new teaching methods for singing, dancing, and sports.
With the financial assistance of Sree Kanti Bhai, two cottages have been built to accommodate guests. If ever you feel you need a complete break in a quiet, natural setting in the middle of a forest, you may wish to consider this. It would also help Sishutirtha to earn some revenue.
One of the two guesthouses at Santiniketan Sishutirtha
Santiniketan Sishutirtha aims at providing child care for 50 children. To meet these objectives another 3 cottages are to be constructed. To build four cottages in all for the present, a sum of approximately Rs.24,00,000 is required (just over €34,300 or £27,200 or US$43,200 at today’s exchange rates). Running expenditure will be about Rs. 28,000 per month per unit (just over €400 or £300 or $500 at today’s exchange rates).
- Kitchen Garden, Poultry and Dairy
Santiniketan Sishutirtha plans to grow vegetables for daily consumption of its residents with the help of the children and staff in the Kitchen Garden. Similarly, it plans to be self sufficient with its own poultry and dairy, which also helps the society to earn some money. A humble beginning has been made with available paltry resources in the form of a small Kitchen Garden.
To continue this project on a larger scale, it is required that building up of structures and purchase of chicks etc. are taken up immediately. To start this project a sum of Rs.5,00,000 (just over €7,100 or £5,600 or US$9,000 at today’s exchange rates) will be required initially to build up structures and to purchase chicks and cattle.
A Playground needs to be provided. The present land acquired by the association is very undulated and needs proper levelling. The cost involved is about Rs.1,00,000. (just over €1,400 or £1,100 or US$1,800 at today’s exchange rates).
Vocational Education serves more than one purposes. It is creative, helps self-expression, at the same time prepares children for earning a living. We therefore, have Silkscreen printing, Carpentry, Weaving, etc. as our vocational education. We desire to enhance the Scope of Vocational education in future because it is so useful. To improve vocational education unit we require approx Rs.15,00,000 (just over €21,000 or £17,000 or US$27,000 at today’s exchange rates).
The medical unit will have to start functioning as early as possible. To start with basic medicines will be arranged. Gradually a full time doctor, a nurse a helper will be provided to run the unit full time. This Medical unit will look after the health problems of the two villages also. Construction cost of such Unit, a sum of Rs.8,00,000 is needed (just over €11,400 or £9,000 or US$14,400 at today’s exchange rates).
Three of the children have reached Class IX. Owing to the absence of a High School here at Sishutirtha, the children currently attend a High School about 5 km away. Soon other children will be eligible for higher classes and will face the same difficulty. We therefore need to upgrade the School already running into a High School for both our children as well as other needy students from neighbouring villages.
Who runs Santiniketan Sishutirtha?
Santiniketan Sishutirtha, which is a registered charity, comprises of a Core Working Group which is responsible for the functioning of Sishutirtha. The association has an Advisory Committee which includes eminent personalities like the noted film director Mrinal Sen, Professor KG Subramanyan, the ex-Commissioner of Police, Kolkata, Tushar Talukdar and others.
There are at present two mothers, one Honorary Administrative Staff Member, an Assistant, a Cook and a part-time Help.
- To provide a home to orphan and destitute children
- To provide safe and secure accommodation, food and clothes to these children
- To provide educational, recreational and socio cultural facilities to the children
- To provide important craft based vocational training so that these children can learn some skill and earn a living in the future
- To nurture all kind of arts and culture
- To help the children become responsible and sensitive citizens of the country
- To provide all kind of medical aid as and when required.
This complies with the 4 basic rights of children that were defined in the 1989 United Nations Charter to which India is a signatory:
- Right to Survival .. to life, health, nutrition, name, nationality
- Right to Protection .. from exploitation, abuse, neglect
- Right to Development .. to education, care, leisure, recreation, cultural activities
- Right to Participation .. to expression, information, thought
For more details
Please visit the website of Santiniketan Sishutirtha.