Chandra Yonzon started a school for the under-privileged and has been running it over the years in a quiet Sikkim village.
A volunteer poses with the schoolchildren
Located in Sikkim, in the lap of Himalayas, is a school like no other. St. Xavier’s School, Tikjuk, with classes till 8th standard, was founded by a 15-year-old girl, Chandra Yonzon, in 1998, who herself was a high school student back then.
“I wanted to educate and help children around me who were not able to study due to their poor financial conditions. Seeing them grappling with poverty, I felt I needed to do something and bring some kind of change. So at the age of 15, I started teaching children in my neighbourhood and the school grew bit by bit. Today, we have a waiting list of children who want to enroll themselves at the school, but we do not have enough resources to take on more responsibilities,” explains Chandra.
The region is not well connected and things can get tough specially in rains. Small-scale agriculture happens to be the main source of livelihood, which means locals can’t donate money or resources to the school. Despite all such hurdles, Chandra takes care of around 50 children from the age of two to 15 years. “While some students at the school are from under-privileged backgrounds, some are being raised by single parents. The kids who have lost both their parents stay here at the school with me,” she says.
The job requires her to be on call all the time. Every day, she fulfills the roles of a principal, a teacher, a caretaker and a manager. “But I cannot imagine any other way of life,” she smiles. She runs the school on whatever little contribution she gets at the community level, without any support from the state or central government. “Some other people have also contributed but it always gets difficult with so many children,” she shares.
Despite a lack of resources, Chandra ensures that the children get a good and holistic education. “The children wake up early and we have a number of activities lined up for them. Meditation, dance, music, theatre, sports, painting, computer education are all part of their daily routine, apart from the regular academic classes that they are supposed to attend,” shares Chandra.
While education is well taken care of, the lack of resources is distinctly felt. Half the children do not have books and end up sharing them. They manage with limited stationary, simple meals and a few pairs of clothes. The library also doesn’t have many books. But Chandra does try to get them treats whenever she can to cheer them up.
Many volunteers come to the school and contribute in their own ways, from helping build a library, to making furniture for the school, painting the walls, teaching the students, etc. “I am ever grateful for their help, and it also puts a big smile on the faces of these children,” says Chandra.
Talking about the teachers at the school, Chandra says, “One has to be devoted to the cause if they want to teach at our school. Otherwise they won’t be able to do this job. Nothing but compassion has to drive them.”
Devoting her life to the school and the children, Chandra hopes the school produces bright and creative minds who can bring a change in the society. She is trying to raise funds for her school with the help of a few volunteers in the hope of making the lives of these children better.