A village school that began in a cowshed is now an academy for Karbi tribe kids in Assam

At Parijat Academy, a school in Pamohi village near Guwahati, first generation learners receive free education and learn various skills. Making sanitary pads is a part of the curriculum.

Sayantani DebSayantani Deb   11 Nov 2023 6:56 AM GMT

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A village school that began in a cowshed is now an academy for Karbi tribe kids in Assam

The village school is trying to buck the trend by openly discussing menstruation with its students, both male and female. All Photos by Ritu Rupam Kashyap. 

Guwahati, Assam

An unusual slogan welcomes visitors to Parijat Academy. ‘Bleed With Dignity’ is painted on one of its walls.

Inside a classroom, teenage girls in their navy blue and white school uniforms cut and sew pieces of cloth on a sewing machine. They are making sanitary pads for themselves, their friends and other rural women in the neighbourhood. Making pads is a part of their curriculum at school.

“I make my own sanitary pads. I can use them for at least two years. They are sustainable and reusable,” Majoni Tumung, a student of class 10 of Parijat Academy, told Gaon Connection.

Parijat Academy, located in Pamohi village on the outskirts of Guwahati in northeast India, is breaking taboos around periods and educating rural girls about menstrual hygiene.

Menstruation has so far remained a taboo topic among the predominantly Karbi tribe community of the village and every year a large number of girls drop out of school once they hit puberty. One reason being lack of sanitary facilities, and the other being stigma and shame associated with periods.

Menstruation has so far remained a taboo topic among the predominantly Karbi tribe community of the village and every year a large number of girls drop out of school once they hit puberty.

The village school is trying to buck the trend by openly discussing menstruation with its students, both male and female.

Since 2017, the female students at the school have been making their own reusable and washable sanitary pads. They regularly gift them to their friends and relatives too. So far, the school has distributed free pads to around 4,000 women.

Also Read: At This School, Based on Gandhi’s dream of Nai Taleem, Children Earn While They Learn

Uttam Teron, who belongs to Pamohi village, is the brain behind this school, which he established twenty years ago in 2003. A science graduate from Cotton College, Guwahati, he was disturbed that education was hardly a priority amongst the tribal communities in the area and decided to do something about it.

“The tribal inhabitants of the villages could not afford to educate their children. After completing my studies, I gave private tuitions, and with the money saved, I began a non-profit learning centre in a cowshed with just one desk and one bench,” the 47-year-old reminisced.

“The learning centre that began with four students has turned into this full fledged school, Parijat Academy, with around 300 underprivileged students studying between nursery and class 10,” said Teron, who is also the director of the school.

The school is free to the students and is run with money from fundraising. It has 21 teachers who mostly do voluntary service and are paid as and when the school has resources.

Parijat Academy has children coming from the villages of Pamohi, Mahguapra, Deosutal, Garchuk, Mainakhorong, Dhalbama, Nowagaon, Garoghuli, Garbhanga, Natun Garbhanga, Ulubari, Pahamjila, Jalukpaham, Matang, Nongtare, Pilingku and Umsen.

Parijat Academy is breaking taboos around periods and educating rural girls about menstrual hygiene.

There is now another branch of the school that has come up at the remote Garbhanga reserve forest, about 45 kilometres from Pamohi, where children from the tribal villages there study. This school is from class 1 to class 5.

Both the branches of Parijat Academy have a provision for residential facilities with the school campuses for first-generation learners hailing from far-flung areas. Pamohi’s hostel has 65 students, and Garbhanga’s hostel has 52 students. The hostel facilities are also completely free.

"The hostel facilities here are very good. We receive a good education which is impossible to get at my Garbhanga, my village,” said Diganta Teron, a class 9 student who has been staying in the Pamohi hostel for three years now.

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Bleed with Dignity

When Teron started to work closely with the village inhabitants and the children, he realised that they knew little about menstrual hygiene. “There was no awareness about menstruation and they did not know how to keep themselves clean and healthy during those days of the month,” he said.

With the help of his wife Aimoni Tumung, Teron started an awareness drive, but with a difference. They commissioned a professional artist to make a wall painting with the words ‘Bleed with Dignity’ written boldly and prominently across it.

“The intention was to make the girls feel comfortable and inform the boys that the periods are a natural phenomenon,” Teron said.

In 2017, a USA-based non-profit, The Day for Girls, approached Tumung and Teron to conduct sanitary napkins-making training workshops for the girls. “The girls and women of the village made the sanitary pads and distributed them in the nearby villages,” Tumung told Gaon Connection.

In the past few years, under the guidance of Tumung Baideo (Baideo means ma’am in Assamese), girls in the school have been making their own reusable and washable sanitary pads, and also gifting to others.

Tumung described the process of making the sanitary pads, which are cloth-based and do not cause irritation or infections.

Since these sanitary pads are washable and reusable, these can be easily used for two years by taking good care of them and drying them in the sun after every wash.

"They are made up of a shield, a liner, and a leak-proof polyurethane laminate fabric tucked inside which makes it completely safe, hygienic, and cost-effective,” she said. “We also sell these pads. Small pads cost Rs 80 each and the big ones cost Rs 110 each. We also take bulk orders,” Tumung added.

Since these sanitary pads are washable and reusable, these can be easily used for two years by taking good care of them and drying them in the sun after every wash.

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In addition to menstrual awareness, Parijat Academy places a strong emphasis on educating children, regardless of age or gender, about the difference between good and bad touch.

"A lot of people in rural areas do not talk about such topics openly. However, in our school we have realised the importance of it and educate our children about good and bad touch," Teron said.

For Teron, his dream is to reach out to at least a thousand more students from the remote villages in the next five years, while Tumung dreams of making sustainable sanitary towels affordable to all the girls and women in the area.

"This is an extraordinary school and I feel blessed to be associated with this place,” Deepanjali Bhagawati, principal of the school, told Gaon Connection. The school focuses on the skill development of every child, and encourages extra curricular activities and holds science exhibitions, and trekking trips for its students, she said.


#Assam #education The Changemakers Project 

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