A Visually Impaired Teacher Illuminated The Lives Of Children Of Tea-Garden Workers
Karna Telenga helped set up a school in a village in Sivasagar district of Assam to educate underprivileged children of tea garden workers. Despite losing his vision in an accident, he continued to teach them. He passed away this month on August 1.
Sayantani Deb 11 Aug 2023 6:40 AM GMT
A few days after Karna Telenga was interviewed for this story, he passed away in an accident on August 1, 2023. But this beloved teacher’s legacy of love for his students will continue at the Telenga Bosti
Lower Primary School that he helped set up in 1992 for the children of tea garden workers.
The voices of children loudly saying their multiplication tables, or reciting a poem or spelling out words bounced off the walls of the Telenga Bosti LP School.
The school, located in Sivasagar district of Assam, has about 40 students studying between classes 1 and class 5. Most of them come from the tea gardens and the adjoining slums in the area.
Karna Telenga is their teacher. He spends hours telling them stories and educating them. Being visually impaired hasn’t hampered the teacher’s love for teaching and making learning a joyous experience for his students who come from underprivileged families of tea garden workers. Many of Telenga’s students are first generation learners.
“My life revolves around the students. I find the utmost peace being with these innocent souls,” 49-year-old Telenga told Gaon Connection. “I always wanted to be a teacher,” he smiled.
Born into a family of tea-garden workers, and the oldest of four siblings, Telenga knows what struggle means, and the importance of education. He has dedicated his life to teaching the children of tea garden workers at the Telenga Bosti LP School, which was set up in 1992. Even though he lost his eyesight in an accident, he did not stop teaching.
“The school is my happiest place. Besides, ours is a remote village without proper educational facilities. I do not want the children to be deprived of education come what may,” the teacher said.
Telenga started teaching when he was himself a student of class 11. "Soon after my 10th exams, I started working as a night chowkidar at a tea factory to help out my family," he recalled.
It was then that a resident of neighbouring village (Rupapur) Lila Ram Kalita approached him and sought his help in setting up a school in their village. And, Telenga Bosti LP School was established in 1992, to bring some literacy amongst the children of the tea-worker community.
"Managing my studies, school, and working at the factory at the same time was very difficult, but my love for studying and teaching made everything smooth and easy," the teacher told Gaon Connection.
But, it hasn’t been an easy journey for Telenga. Just when things began to look up and the school started doing well, an accident left Telenga partially blind in the beginning, and later he lost his complete vision.
The incident turned his life upside down. Karna Telenga, his wife Subhabati Telenga, and principal Lila Ram Kalita, visited many doctors in Jorhat, Dibrugarh, Guwahati, and Nepal but nothing could be done to restore his eyesight.
But, that did not stop Telenga from continuing to teach.
“I had to only change the way I taught. Earlier, I used to write on the blackboard, and the children would follow it. But now, I make them learn things in a verbal way,” he said.
According to him the children had no trouble adapting to his new teaching method. “They are attentive and understand things without much trouble,” said Telenga.
Being primarily a mathematics teacher, Telenga ensured that his students understood the subject properly. He made them recite multiplication tables and solve mathematical problems. Additionally, he also teaches them English and Assamese.
“I try to create a fun and lively environment inside the classroom by telling them interesting stories and playing games with them," he said.
Telenga is a favourite among the students. “The children love Telenga Sir dearly, and they never miss his class. His passion for teaching and students' thirst for learning has turned this small school into a temple of knowledge,” Principal Kalita told Gaon Connection.
"Karna Telenga and I shared a great camaraderie, he was just like my younger brother. Thirty one years back, he supported me in every way in establishing the school. Without him, it was impossible to establish and provincialise this school,” Kalita recalled.
The villagers believe that Telenga is a vital force in the village. "He is well-respected and has always encouraged fellow villagers to understand the importance of education. He never misses an opportunity to tell parents about how important it was to educate their children,” Moni Telenga, a 32-year-old anganwadi worker from the village, told Gaon Connection.
Pride of the Family
Telenga himself spared no efforts to educate his children. “My father's life has taught us that if we genuinely want to do something then nothing can stop us,” Aditya Telenga, his son and a B.Sc student at Moran College, told Gaon Connection.
“My father faced inordinate challenges to provide me and my sister a good education,” Aditya added. His sister Kirti Telenga, works as a nurse at a private hospital in Sivasagar.
Telenga’s life was cut short when he was only 49 years old. He had so much more to give to the children. But, his colleagues and all those who knew him said they would ensure his legacy would live on.
"He led an exemplary life and has inspired us with his willpower and dedication. I promise to carry forward his legacy and provide the best education to the students," said Kalita.