Karunar Kheti Trust

Supported by: Wipro

Karunar Kheti Trust (KKT) is trying to address the extreme education crisis in one of the typical, but dominant rural areas of Assam (in terms of population, geographical area, and the state’s economy) that comprises its tea plantation and ethnic village communities. Tea- plantations of Assam, for example, are the 3rd largest employers of people in India and the largest in Assam, employing 1.5 million people directly, most of whom are its laborers.

Simultaneously, and in a sense even fundamentally and immediately as a pre-requisite to solving the education crisis, we are trying to empower the very communities worst affected by the crisis to become a significant and even fundamental part of the wholesome solution to this crisis, which includes being the pioneering leaders of such wholesome solutions that must include collaboration with stakeholders like the government and other institutions of the mainstream economy.

We are doing so because we see that a significant, arguably even fundamental, cause of such an education crisis (and even other related socio-economic crises) is the extreme disempowerment of such large populations of people for many years, which is 175+ years in the case of tea- plantation communities of Assam.

This is a fundamental void of disproportionate proportions in our collective humanity’s perspective on problems and solutions. This void can only be fundamentally filled when such populations have an empowered expression that comes directly from them, irrespective of whatever agency is already out there working for their cause.

A symptom of this fundamental void is the immense levels of apathy, and therefore inefficiency and corruption we find in India’s governance, its institutions, and politics. How can a government or institution that seeks to represent and serve the people be held to such standards of accountability if the people are not empowered? Even the noblest and most altruistic of institutions cannot remain so without accountability – this appears to me to be the reality of human nature, at least at the levels of large collectives of people.

While a part of the solution is to directly and immediately work with the government in its existing institutions, without an approach that directly and immediately empowers the disempowered, the various parts of the solution will not add up.

The approach

Our approach is to develop ground-up participatory processes for decision-making and action so that people are directly, immediately, and fundamentally heard and their energies that are hitherto trapped in cycles of disempowerment, finds expression in empowering thought and peaceful action.

For example, our school, Selenghat Valley School, is a school built by the people, for the people. It is our stepping-stone community effort and the main program of our organization. The school currently has 90 children from Nursery to Class 2, and all its teaching and non-teaching staff are either from the immediate or surrounding local communities.

The school is built entirely based on our fundamental ethos and the related process of community participation, and this effort while above all bringing the support and engagement of the community, has also started receiving external national and international level validation, for example by our Founder being selected as a Wipro Education Fellow and our school being selected as one of the 6 finalists in a Global Architecture in Development Challenge 2021 that “recognizes”. Gradually, even the validation, encouragement, support, and intention for collaboration of the government ecosystem of education in our block/district is growing.

Locations: Boisahabi Tea Estate, Selenghat Block, district Jorhat, Assam.

Plans for next 1-3 years: Our organization has grown from deliberately fundamentally and dominantly local/contextual structures and processes, emerging from the hearts and minds of people whose non-linear expressions are most efficiently channelized in oral traditions of communication, structures, and processes.

Only recently have we begun to, at least on a priority basis, tend to the shoots of the organic growth of its counterpart of formally written, documented, and implemented systems and processes that are also compliant with that of a modern non-profit organization. Working on this recent latter development, while maintaining grounding and empowering balance with local/contextual structures and processes, will continue to be a significant effort in the next 1-3 years. Such structures and processes include education, compliance, governance, HR, finance, and accounts, etc.

Because of our presence as a good and legitimate organization we are organically beginning to interface and manage relationships with, including opportunities to collaborate, with different organizations. For example, our interactions with the government education ecosystem are growing and we would like to explore various collaboration opportunities which include sharing knowledge from various learnings in our school, ranging from educational pedagogy and curriculum to aspects of community participation, for example through the School Management Committee.

Building our resources for long-term sustainability, for example financial, is also going to be a key focus.

Digging deeper into building our educational capacity, for example developing finer aspects of STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, math) education and assessment practices.