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In the interiors of West Bengal, India — a Muslim majority community in a Muslim minority country — it is still common practice in certain villages to cleanse your house with sacred water after a Muslim enters a Hindu’s house. In the Muslim community, Hindus are viewed as the oppressors and treated with distrust and disdain. Emotions of ill-will are filtered down to the youngest generations. Despite being a part of the same community, Hindus and Muslims in Bengal remain segregated, separated, and distrustful of each other.
dreamfly in West Bengal
dreamly lead, Rwitwika Bhattacharya, calls West Bengal home. She led our organization’s effort to help bring together the Hindu-Muslim community and work to ensure that the next generation no longer fall victim to hate.
dreamfly partnered with the Bagnan High School in Ulebedia in West Bengal to create a computer lab that takes students on Learning Journeys. The learning journeys ask of the students to work in groups, learning from and teaching each other, beyond caste, creed, or religion, and gain exposure to the world while learning marketable technical skills. The Bagnan High School touches:
2,843 secondary school students
with 90 students per class
In partnership with Greenbridge Computing, dreamfly installed Microsoft Windows Multipoint Servers with 32 workstations for students and 2 laptops for teachers.
The project was developed with the support of leading education experts including Dr. Sugata Mitra and the Sam Pitroda team.
Objectives and Outcomes
We are constantly evaluating our efforts in West Bengal per the below criteria:
1. Education: to read, write, and reason, to question comfortable assumptions, to form and inform beliefs
Because we are working with high-school children in a community deeply entrenched in stereotypes and biases our goal is to focus on having children “question assumptions” and develop “informed beliefs.” Children should have access to knowledge about the world beyond Ulubedia by getting the opportunity to connect with each other and learn. They should be encouraged to access computers independently of the classroom and teachers should foster intellectual curiosity amongst students.
2. Exposure: to reach out to, to experience, to understand unknown enemy.
An increased emphasis on group work through the computer program should make students work with each other and consequently be able to ‘reach out’ to other students forgetting religion, caste or creed. The lab space will be a safe place where students will have the opportunity to explore new topics and be able to work collectively.
3. Empower: to imagine, realize, a better reality for self and others.
As the dreamfly project in India continues to grow, students should become educated and exposed and consequently gain a better understanding of the realities. By forming independent opinions they should be able to become better citizens and contribute productively to the society.
Reflections from West Bengal
The day that the computer lab opened, Rwitwika met a petite ten-year-old student of the Ulubedia high-school, who claimed he would “change the world!” once the lab opened…
Below are reflections from Rwitwika, in her words:
Hmm… that was interesting, I thought. I wasn’t quite expecting such an ambitious response. But that was the beauty of the computers. Suddenly the children felt that they had the world at their hands. They felt empowered.
“What do you mean, change the world?” I asked. The seemingly young ten-year-old responded.
“Well, when you grow up in a village, you are just used to listening to lectures and promises. You don’t see anything happening. I know with the computer lab, I will actually have the opportunity to do something, to learn something and most importantly to communicate with the world outside. I have everything I need in that classroom. Now if they only open it, we can begin!”
I pushed him on learning more about his plans. “Okay, so here is what I am thinking. I will work with Arvind and Sultan to actually try and break in to the gaming industry. I know there are a few media parlors here where you can play video games. But they have the same games and I know most of my friends are tired of playing those games. If I can know more about gaming and computer software, maybe we could soon start designing games and supply new video games in Ulubedia. Car games are popular but I think space games can make a came back. We need something new and we need it made locally so it’s cheap. I need to make that happen.”
And there it was. This young ten year old, in two minutes had given me a new product launch strategy for the Ulubedia market. He had gauged his market size, targeted his customers and knew how he would launch this product. Most importantly, he too, like the lab, did not discriminate against caste or creed. He was willing to team up with the most talented, regardless of where they came from.
Suddenly, I heard a loud clapping outside and knew that the celebration program was over. Before the principal came I needed to wrap this up. “Well young man you are a born entrepreneur. What’s your name?”
He smirked a bit and responded, “Mohammad.”