Saturday, June 8, 2013

PAKT assistance to "Ma Sarada Shishu Tirtha" - an underprivileged girls' school at Krishnanagar

We came to know of Ma Sarada Shishu Tirtha (MSST) through a PAKT companion.
We made a visit to this school which gets support from Spanish NGO (El Hogar De Las Ninas) as well as another Kolkata based NGO, Abheda Foundation.

Out of the pressing issues seen in the school,  two specific issues (repairing of toilet doors, as well as purchase of primary school books etc at start of session) were deemed most suitable to be taken up by PAKT. Following an authenticity verification visit to MSST, PAKT contribution towards these two expenses was agreed with members. 
The disbursement has been made to MSST. In a subsequent visit the toilet door fitting activity has been confirmed, along with MSST acknowledgement of admission / new books support for new classes.

With this activity, all funds related to HSI (Help Sunderbans Initiative) stand disbursed. These funds were collected for HSI relief and rehabilitation activity triggered by cyclone Aila (May'09) wreaking havoc amongst large swathes of population dwelling in the Sunderbans.

Pix of follow-up visit uploaded in link:

Pic of repaired toiler doors:

Some other links related to MA Sarada Shishu Tirtha:

a) brief write-up on Ma Sarada Shishu Tirtha:
b) online video of Ma Sarada children putting up a dance program:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

PAKT: Assistance for educational support to street children adopted by Niharkana

PAKT: the way ahead

PAKT's Aila rehabilitation program at Chargheri area of Sunderbans came to an end in 2010 after more than 7 months relief / rehabilitation activity from Jun 2009 to Dec 2009 followed by 3-4 months of subsequent survey and feasibility assessment of further support.

PAKT has been dormant since the closure of Sunderban activity.

After discussing with members and contributors of PAKT who participated in the AILA relief & rehabilitation activities at Chargheri, it was felt that PAKT can get involved in some social rehabilitation activities in Kolkata and nearby areas.
Aim is to sustain the good work of extending assistance to those who need it most. 


Of late PAKT has been in touch with Niharkana Rehabilitation Center, run by Mrs Kanta Chakraborty.

Niharkana Rehabilitation Center aims to rehabilitate a set of street children, mainly girl children, to self-sufficiency at adulthood. They aim to achieve this objective by providing continuous support to these children upto their adulthood on essential an developmental requirements like food, clothing, education (including support outside their schools), health and contributing to their overall development by involving them in extra curricular activities.

Current achievement of Niharkana is given in this link. [the page needs minor updation with more recent information]

The children are accommodated in an enclosure on Dum dum station and a vendor's union office (otherwise vacant at night) is allowed by relevant body to be used as there shelter for the night. The above arrangements are facilitated by Niharkana by making formal / informal requests and coordinating with the relevant authorities & bodies to provide security and partially protected environment for education & living to these children.

Preliminary visit to the area was done in Sep-Oct 2011 to carry out basic verification of Niharkana activities and the organisation was found to be genuine. 
[Press coverage o Niharkana:]

PAKT's educational support to Niharkana 

In early January 2012, Niharkana Rehabilitation Center got back to  PAKT requesting support for the children's educational needs at the start of the academic session. 

The requirement was as follows for approx 20 children currently adopted by Niharkana for long term rehabilitation support: 

i) Notebooks for all kids for one academic year 

ii) Admission cost for the kids

iii) A few specific books for class 8-9 (other books are provided by the schools)

iv) School bags (tailor made ones with low cost material to reduce costs)

The required amount for the activity is around Rs. 7000/-

On 26th January 2012, PAKT made a visit to Niharkana's enclosure at Platform#1 of Dumdum Railway station. The cheque for Rs 7000/- was handed over to Mrs. Kanta Chakraborty. Sandeepan Choudhury and Angshuman Hazra visited Niharkana Rehabilitation Center on behalf of PAKT.
Niharkana will subsequently provide PAKT with formal expense bills specifying the actual purchases against the heads of expense as listed above. PAKT can also carry out a subsequent verification visit to review the fulfilment of these needs.

Observations during visit

When we visited Niharkana Rehabilitation Center, the children were participating in drawing lessons under tutelage of a gentleman, the drawing teacher. Subsequently they broke the class to have breakfast. Mrs. Kanta Chakraborty was supervising the discipline as well as the needs of the children. She was joined by another lady teacher.

We had taken some pictures during the visit. Those pictures have been captioned and placed in this link.

Please let us know about your thoughts on this latest activity of PAKT.

Request from Niharkana:

During our discussions with Mrs Kanta Chakraborty, we have come to know that a majority of the expenses are pooled from her personal earnings. With external supports being limited to minimal and sporadic one time supports, rising food prices are making it very difficult for Niharkana to sustain the expenses. She requests generous people knowing about Niharkana to visit the facility and extend financial support to help make a difference to the future of these children (long term assistance is preferred, but short term aid also welcome).

Interested individuals, those who follow this blogpost as well as all others who are willing to help, are welcome to independently visit / support / assist Niharkana as the case may be.

We thought it worthwhile to pass on this request from Niharkana to members & contributors of PAKT as well as all readers of this blog.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Trip 12: Blanket Distribution at Attapur & closure of Phase-I HSI work of PAKT

On 19th Dec 2009, PAKT distributed more blankets to needy villagers. The distribution was carried out in a new village named Attapur in another area of Sunderbans which was also affected by Aila. This activity was coordinated through Swanirvar. Abhijit Dutta visited the place along with PAKT's Kaustuv & Sandeepan for this distribution.
With this activity, PAKT closed the Phase-I work of relief and rehabilitation in Sunderbans for Aila affected regions. Phase-II work planned for later date (2010).

Thursday, January 21, 2010

11th trip: Distribution of blankets

On the 13th of December, PAKT made a visit to Chargheri for the purpose of distributing blankets to families in the 5 villages namely Chargheri, Santigachhi, Parasmani, Bidhan Colony and Lahiripur.

Over the past visits to Chargheri area and especially during the brief surveys that we carried out over various visits during food distribution phase till trip#8, a large number of people had mentioned loss / extensive damage of their domestic belongings including mattresses, quilts, and blankets during the Aila fury. They had responded positively to queries from us (PAKT) on the utility of blankets being distributed to them at the onset of winter. That is how this activity took shape.

Criteria for distribution:
As suggested in an earlier post, PAKT chose to set a criteria for distribution of blankets.
Considering the recent history of activities carried out by PAKT (distribution of food followed by training for backyard farming / seed distribution), the basis of blanket distribution needed some sorting out and agreement. In the end we decided to provide a blanket for each of the families who are
(i) EITHER Card-holders from the food distribution phase (selected based on low family income),
(ii) OR non-card holding direct recipient of agricultural training for saline conditions arranged by PAKT who subsequently used seeds provided by PAKT to grow vegetables,
(iii) OR non-card holding indirect recipient of agricultural training (via other trained villagers) who subsequently used seeds provided by PAKT to grow vegetables,
(iv) OR some others who took an initiative after becoming aware of the training from word-of-mouth, collected seeds from PAKT and made an effort to grow vegetables with the seeds.

Evidently this led to significantly increased numbers. PAKT resources were stretched to provide blankets for all of these families. However assistance from well wishers of PAKT could enable us fulfil the aim of providing a blanket to each of these families.

The distribution process:
We reached the location early as communicated to the recipients through the agricultural community of 5 villages which was recently formed in the area as per insistence of PAKT. Dipankar's men helped with unloading of the stuff as usual. The blanket distribution was started after a declaration to the waiting masses on
(a) the distribution detail (one per family), and
(b) uniformity of quality of blankets being distributed.

Kaustuv and Sandeepan went a step ahead and made a demonstration of a sample blanket to avoid having people whispering their way into "his blanket is better" debates later on.

The distribution was done in 2 queues. As expected the queue for card holders, although longer, was cleared off very soon. The other queue was distributing blankets to people belonging to Cat-(ii) to Cat-(iv) of above types of people, based on lists created by the agricultural trainers Narain Bachar and Anjana Mandal over a number of their trips. It took a whole previous night's homework on these lists by Sandeepan followed by his on-site Herculean effort with the support of the local Agri-cooperative members. All of this simply to untie the mysteries in those sheets containing names of over 500 families who collected seeds from PAKT, and complete the distribution to the satisfaction of (almost) all who expected to benefit as per the criteria set by us.

This one-off effort on assembling the customised lists prepared by non-PAKT people once again highlighted the benefit of implementing the card system during the food distribution phase, particularly the trouble that it saved us over the period besides facilitating equitable distribution. Kaustuv can take due credit for prevailing on the rest of us and insisting on going ahead with an idea that seemed 'too ambitious' to the others.

More survey
This visit was also utilised by some in the group to carry out further survey of backyard garden vegetable growth in Chargheri. This area remained under-surveyed in the 10th visit when PAKT took a status report of growth of various vegetables in these 5 villages. Chargheri was one of the villages where the tidal waters kept rising and ebbing in the lands for months till the dyke was repaired.....hence the result was not expected to be exceptional. The results of some individuals like Bimal Gayen was encouraging for us and - more importantly - for the locals.

Bimal did an excellent job of raising vegetables in his garden as also his brother's garden, while also finding time to help some others to make best use of their pieces of land. In between the numerous stories of failed attempts in Chargheri, there were stories of some like Bimal who persisted even after failure and tried the trainer-taught techniques with their own innovations to conquer the circumstances.

A further round of survey on the fruitfulness of seeds distributed by PAKT was conducted at the queue for blankets. The general feedback from people of various villages supported the reports from previous week's detailed survey at all villages: many people were able to raise and harvest vegetables with most of the seeds distributed by PAKT by employing the anti-saline techniques, the same techniques that were emphasised in the training programs arranged by PAKT and conducted by trainers from Swanirvar. Some of the seeds did not produce results consistently across the areas and the lack of results was fed back to Swanirvar. They agreed to have further discussion on these failed seeds with PAKT.

HERE and HERE. In addition to the usual suspects, we had two new friends Arup and Apurba-da visiting with us on 11th trip. We also had a number of friends from Khelaghar making the trip for the first time to support the blanket distribution by PAKT. PAKT benefitted during the distribution as well as continued agri-survey due to their enthusiasm and their active participation.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

10th Trip : Survey of Agricultural Initiative

Objective of Survey

Our 10th trip on 6th December, was a bit different. Nothing to distribute, not to train but to have a first hand assessment of what is the outcome of our agricultural rehabilitation initiative started on the 5th September,2009. So, on 6th December, a small PAKT team visited the Chargheri area.

It may be recalled that 14 training sessions, both theoretical and hands on, were arranged by PAKT for different groups of villagers. PAKT roped in agricultural trainers Mr Narayan Chandra Bachar and Mrs Anjana Mandal from the organisation SWANIRVAR, for imparting the training and planned, organised and financed the training sessions and related works. In mid October, 14 different types of seeds of vegetables, Spinach (Palong), Radish (Mulo), olkapi, Carrot(gajor), beat, dhone, lanka, kumro, barbati,Ladies finger (vendi), uchhe, Brinjal (begoon) lau, lalshak, were distributed among 560 families of the five villages covered by PAKT.

Seeds were distributed in mid October, 2009 and it was time to visit and review the results. We were eager to see the outcome of the application of different techniques (explained during the training) of growing vegetables in the lands affected by saline water intrusion during the Aila. After the Aila, many people predicted that these lands would be rendered fallow at least for two years. Our survey was critical for assessing the success of the agricultural rehabilitation initiative and deciding our future course of activities in these villages, specially in the agriculture sector.

The Survey

For covering the huge area in a single day, the PAKT team broke up in two groups. One group got down at the Lahiripur Boat Ghat RW and covered Lahiripur and part of Shantigachi. The other group disembarked at the Kakmari bajar ghat and covered Bidhan colony, Parasmani, part of Shantigachi and a few houses of Chargheri. In totality, we visited and interacted with 75 families during our five hour long walk through the villages and gathered substantial doceumentation in the form of videos and pictures (that link shows pictures taken at Lahiripur-Santigachhi; click here for pictures taken by the other team that surveyed at Porosmani-BidhanColony and part of Chargheri). Both teams were accompanied and supported by the representatives of the cooperatives (see later) from respective villages.


i) Almost all the villagers who took the agricultural training & vegetable seeds from PAKT, have attempted seriously to harvest the vegetables in their own lands. We hardly came across any family who has failed to grow anything from the seeds given by PAKT.

ii) We saw varying results. Not all could apply their trainings in a very effective manner. but those who has judiciously applied has generally got good results. However, we did not observe many cases where people has utlitsed the innovative techniques, like planting in the sack.

iii) Land condition and water availability has got a major impact on the outcome :

a) In certain area the land was flushed with saline water once, while some experienced long stagnation of saline water. The latter type, particularly the low lying field, has not observed a good yield in general (barring a few cases like Nirapada Sarkar) as the salt comes up during drying up process. Relatively higher lands which were not regularly flooded by the tidal cycle have better yield.

b) In general who used the fresh water from tubewells has got good results. But there are few tubewells in the village (particularly in Lahiripur/Santigachi area) and not many people could access them.

c) Interestingly, a number of people also got good yield by using the water from their own pond near the field. This water is likely to be saline (or nonta) to low-saline (or doodh-nonta), depending on two factors
• Duration of exposure to saline water, and
• If the pond was dewatered at least once after Aila.
A little investigation reveals that not surprisingly the ponds with favourable history of both the above events have successfully supported agriculture

d) Some villagers have used the pond water mixed with tubewell water or on alternate days with tubewell water. This should be the optimal solution , because the high iron content in tubewell water can cause impedance to the growth of the vegetables and the villagers are aware of this fact!!

iv) Several families have not utilized their total agricultural land due to the lack of availability of enough “good/fresh” water. A good option may be to take the risk of using the saline water from nearby pond and give it a try, as this has proved almost a sure option for the ponds dewaterd at least once after the Aila.

v) In a large number of cases palong shak is affected by some insects The training covered these issues. So we asked the cooperative members to convene a meeting in the village and again remind the vegetable farmers all the basics to get rid of it.

vi) We came across several families in Lahiripur who are living in temporary roadside shanties but have grown vegetables on the plot of land which was once the plinth of their house. Indomitable spirit !!!

vii) On an average, we have noticed excellent results for Palongshak, Mulo, Olkapi, uchhe, Lau & Kumro.

viii) Satisfactory results (with occasional cases of failures) have been noticed for Lalshak, Beet & Vendi.

ix) In most of the cases brinjal (begoon) seeds provided by PAKT was found to be a failure. Rather saplings procured from local markets have good results. Chilli (lanka) and barbati seeds also failed to produce good returns barring a few exceptions .


1. The villagers have regained quite a bit of their confidence and have started believing the possibilities of farming in the saline water affected land using the specialized techniques. The vegetable harvest this winter is a major step towards restoring their agriculture based livelihood. Even some of them are interested to try out paddy cultivation. When we asked a gathering of villagers whether they feel rice cultivation will be possible next year (precisely next monsoon), we were pleasantly surprised by a unanimous positive response. They also repeatedly requested PAKT to also consider distributing suitable seeds for repeat of vegetable cultivation before the rainy season.

2. Following our earlier suggestion and with guidance from the agricultural trainers, a 20 member agricultural community has been formed with representatives from five villages. Through this community they are trying to help each other and sharing their agricultural problems. The cooperative members are trying to take lead roles & ownerships in such cases.

Plan for Blanket Distribution

Both the PAKT teams, explained in detail to a good gathering of villagers regarding the modalities of the distribution of the blankets, specially the issue of bringing some identity proof.

To have a more detailed feedback from the villagers, we asked each of them (who took seeds from PAKT) to fill up a small questionnaire. The simple queries were about training, name of the vegetable seeds that got good and bad yields and what they want to cultivate in the coming monsoon. We explained respective representative of cooperatives to help the villagers in answering it.