supporting education in India
Melissa Hess

Babita Debi visits with her daughter Priyam Singh at Tomorrow's Foundation Model School in Kolkata, India.

For half a century, MCC has supported education programs in India — helping create a brighter future for thousands of students and their families.

At an MCC-supported school that draws from some of Kolkata’s most impoverished communities, Sweta Mallick stands in front of a chalkboard of English words, demonstrating the day’s lesson on empty and full.

With each new word she reads and sentence she writes, whether in English or in her native tongue Hindi, the seven-year-old is mastering skills that her parents never had a chance to learn.

showing full and emptySweta Mallick, 7, participates in a comparison exercise in English, showing full and empty at Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School in Kolkata. Photo by Melissa Hess

Two hours away in Asansol, a growing industrial city, Fabin Sundi weeps as he talks about his hopes for education for his teenage son Ronald — who through the help of MCC’s Global Family education program and St. Joseph’s High School is able to pursue his love of formulas and dream of teaching math.

“I am not so educated, and I want my kids to be educated so they can accomplish something in their lives,” says Sundi, who as a labourer spends his days looking for whatever work he can find.

Ronald SundiFabin Sundi, back right, and a neighbour watch Global Family-supported student Ronald Sundi at the family’s home in Asansol. Photo by Melissa Hess

Since 1963, MCC has supported education programs in India, changing the lives of students and helping to rewrite the future of their families.

Today, that tradition continues, with MCC providing some $420,000 to help fund education work in India this year alone — the largest amount MCC spends on education in any country.

The needs, though, also are enormous.

About half of the children who enrol in traditional schools in Kolkata drop out before the age of 12 because of intense pressure to support their families, says Anupa Datta, an education officer for Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School, an MCC partner that offers education to street children and children such as Mallick from impoverished communities.

Many join the millions of other child labourers on the streets of the city, where they are vulnerable to abuse, Datta says. Girls may be forced into early marriage so their parents no longer have to support them.

For Tomorrow’s Foundation, breaking the cycle begins with parents, who are asked to come into their child’s classroom once a week. They also meet as a group with the school’s teachers once a month and are represented on the school’s management committee.

school coordinatorGopa Bhattacharya, coordinator of Tomorrow’s Foundation, says parents’ participation transforms them into advocates for education. Click here to learn more from a teacher at the school. Photo by Melissa Hess

Gopa Bhattacharya, coordinator of Tomorrow’s Foundation, says when parents, most of them illiterate, watch their children flourish and learn new skills, they become advocates for education. And as the children succeed, attitudes change.

“So we educate the community as well,” she says. “These children are first-generation learners. If they continue their education they can help other family members. And then they will have children, and they will want their children to go to school.”

The school focuses on active learning, using songs, debate, role play and drama, and emphasizing skills such as critical thinking and negotiation.

preschool classAt Tomorrow’s Foundation Model School, which emphasizes active learning, Sushmita Santra leads her preschool class in a song. Photo by Melissa Hess

It commits to making sure each teacher has no more than 20 students in a class and on Saturdays offers students cultural programs and lessons in areas such as singing, dancing or painting.

Sunita Mallick, Sweta’s mother, watches the results with joy. Mallick, like millions of adults in India, never had the chance for schooling and can neither read nor write.

As her daughter masters lessons in the classroom, Mallick sees her confidence, creativity and imagination bloom — growth that Mallick says she hopes will give her daughter the opportunity to be vocal in speaking out against injustices and to not be dominated within her family or society.

Tomorrow’s Foundation is one of 21 schools, technical institutions and non-profits that MCC partners with in India through the Global Family education program and other education funding.

students in school uniformsThe distinctive blue and white of school uniforms colours the campus of St. Mary Goretti School. Global Family seeks to improve both the quality of education and students’ access to schooling. At schools such as this one, Global Family helps fund improvements for the entire school and scholar­ships, uniforms and books that the school can offer to students most in need. Photo by Melissa Hess

Funds provide textbooks, support tutoring, buy computers and desks and meet other needs identified by schools. They pay for teacher training to improve the quality of education and student workshops in topics from gardening to career guidance.

It’s an effort that reaches from preschools to vocational training institutes — making a tangible difference in facilities, educational support and schools’ ability to assist students who could not otherwise afford education.

boys at St. Joseph's High SchoolThrough Global Family funding, St. Joseph’s High School is able to provide scholarships to these students. Photo by Melissa Hess

That includes support that St. Joseph’s High School, a Catholic school in Asansol, can use to fund scholarships, helping pupils such as Ronald Sundi attain a level of education their parents could not. “I want to be a teacher, a math teacher, because whatever I am learning from my teachers, I want to pass on,” Sundi says.

“I want to invent something new for my country in the future.”

student at computerVidya Kumari Shaw, 13, and teacher Hema Chhetri work on a computer provided through Global Family funding for St. Mary Goretti School. Photo by Melissa Hess

At nearby St. Mary Goretti School, Vidya Kumari Shaw, whose school fees also are supported by Global Family, dreams of becoming a scientist. “I want to invent something new for my country in the future,” she says.

Since the 1970s, Global Family has partnered with vocational training programs, preparing students for careers in fields from engineering and electronics to nursing, teaching and agriculture.

At Don Bosco Self Employment Research Institute in Kolkata, Joseph Raj Williams and other mechanical engineering students put their skills to the test in a school workshop.

Williams, now in his final year of studies, learned of the school from his father — and found it a welcome alternative to seeking employment in the call centres that are one of few options for young people in Kolkata.

vocational trainingFor 21-year-old Joseph Raj Williams, whose technical studies are supported by Global Family, developing skills in mechanical engineering will mean a more secure future and the ability to support family members. Photo by Melissa Hess

Technical training, he says, is one field where after three years of study he feels like he can expect a good job and a secure future.

It’s an opportunity that changes not just his life — but also that of his family.

For the 21-year-old, the skills that he is learning today, combined with his Christian faith, give him strength and confidence to pursue the work that will support his parents and sister into the future.

“God does help us in every way but we have to help ourselves,” Williams says. “And I come here to help myself.”