Pancha Kanya

Pancha Kanya – The Five Girls

2020 was an unprecedented year for the entire world. But amidst all the chaos,  India became the first country in the world to have 64% of its population within the working age group. On the other hand, a massive threat to mankind came in the form of COVID-19 pandemic, which has shaken the entire civilization of this century.
       Sundarbans forest, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its magnificent mangroves, is also home to the majestic Royal Bengal Tiger. But, in sharp contrast to it’s natural existence, the human face of Sundarban epitomises abject poverty, deprivation and acute suffering. Due to harsh geographical challenges, the local islanders struggle to survive on diminishing natural resources and loose live due to floods, tiger attacks, snake bites, poverty and now the epidemic.
Poverty is the main cause of all the hardships these islanders face. Poverty has pushed more than half of the children population into malnourishment, thus more prone to diseases and resulting in poor academic performance. In 2020, devastating cyclone Amphan has uprooted many families and displaced homes and mode of earning a living.The present situation now has worsened due to the pandemic. It is engulfing to see how many children are sacrificing their dreams and starving to death!
Yet, they dare to dream and fight for it.
It is heartbreaking to see the condition of these innocent and underprivileged children, deprived of healthy food and are left to starve, resulting in  lack of concentration and unwillingness to learn and grow. Education is the birth right for every child, but these children cannot get education due to school closures due to the pandemic. Govt funded schools in Sundarbans were shut down and distance learning options were not given to them. These children were neglected and their right to education was taken overlooked. Distant learning is hard to establish in Sundarbans because of poor logistical situation, lack of adequate income to own a smartphone/laptop and have stable internet connection, which is key for distant learning.
Aranyaj Society, thrives for better future of every child in this country and took up the challenge to provide these neglected children of Sundarbans, with basic education and nutritious food, through a Project named “Pathshala – the unstoppable spirit”. The aim of “Pathshala” is to build a school in every  village of Sundarbans, which will improve the life and living conditions of these children and their families. It also focuses on establishing distant learning, with equipping the schools with modern day gadgets which will enable distant learning during the pandemic situation.
The Himalayan task of establishing this “Pathshala” was not easy due to the major roadblocks like fundraising, human resources, availability of modern day gadgets, logistical challenges which is amplified due to the pandemic.
This is when “Pancha Kanya” (“Five girls”) emerged. It was the efforts, perseverance, and initiation of “Pancha Kanya” that brought “Pathashala” to reality. These 5 super women (Amrita, Upasana in India, and Paromita, Anasuya and Anindarupa for California, USA) have taken up this massive task of building a Pathashala in all the 70+ villages in Sundarbans
Pancha Kanya has proven to the world that if there is a strong desire to achieve something, nothing can stop you. Amrita and Upasana are doing a phenomenal job of working on the ground to implement this project and Paromita, Anasuya and Anindarupa work on building strategies, initiating ideas, raising funds and other activities to bring this dream to reality. Distance is no obstacle for them. Together they are bringing their dream of giving Sundarban an “alternate livelihood and stable education system” into reality. They started with one Pathshala in late 2020 and now have already established 20 Pathshalas with almost 380 children signed up. They are marching to their goal of 70+ with full power.
This is a journey which cannot be accomplished without your support. We earnestly request all of you to stand by our “Pancha Kanya” and support them whichever way possible. Please come together to make the “Pathshala” initiative a success.
“I alone cannot change the world, but i can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples” – Mother Teresa.

Amrita Gupta

Asst.Teacher Delhi Public,Secretary-Aranyaj Society

When the entire civilization is struggling to survive against COVID pandemic, one thing kept me worried…. Who is taking care of the education & Nutrition of the children of Sundarban?

Here, more than half of the children are malnourished, thus more prone to diseases and resulting in poor academic performance. In addition to that more than half of the farming community (55%) are landless labourers and migratory workers. 40 % islanders belong to BPL, compared to Indian average of 29%. The situation is worsened now, with the pandemic. The COVID situation has destroyed lakhs and lakhs of livelihood and the devastating cyclone Amphan has already uprooted many families. The thoughts that keeps me awake all night are, how are these pain stricken islanders managing their daily meals? The children are already severely malnourished. What can we do to improve and strengthen their immunity to fight diseases and COVID-19. What is happening to either education?

The question remains – are these children and their families getting awareness and guidance on fighting COVID-19?

Are they given the option of distant learning or just ensuring that they are told that they are loved and will be taken care of?

Unfortunately, the answer is ‘NO’

No, It is not easy to watch how many children are sacrificing their dreams & how many children are starving till their last breath! Being a teacher I feel it is my social responsibility that beside my own school students, I will do my bit for these deprived children too as they too are the foundation of our country.

And finally we five (my four soulmates Anindarupa, Anasuya, Paromita & Upasana) have chosen 5th September, Teacher’s Day to initiate the Pathshala (mini school) project, which aims at providing basic education and nutritious food to these under privileged children. Today we stand at 20 pathshalas where almost 380 children are getting nutritious food and basic education at no cost to them.

We are facing challenges to raise funds, training the educators, rationing, logistical and infrastructural issues, but the satisfaction is priceless when I see so many people are joining this initiative and lending their helping hands towards these children.

But the biggest satisfaction is when I see the priceless smiles on their faces and the desire to learn and grow is still flaming inside their minds I push myself harder and farther to achieve more for them.

Anasuya Saha

Scientist, California, USA

“I live in California, USA, but I was raised in Kolkata, West Bengal, in India. Still, Kolkata is very close to my heart, where I spent most of my teenage and college life. I went to the Holy Child institute for schooling. It was a Christian missionary school, and since childhood days, we have learned to love and care for others and give back to the community. As a child, I always wanted to be a doctor to serve humanity. In the end, I ended up having a bioscience career as a scientist at Merck. As I grew up, I observed my surroundings, and I understood how fortunate I am to have everything around me. Throughout my life, I waited for the day when I could help someone in need. The goal was to help the less fortunate.The year 2020 was an unprecedented year for everyone, but I got blessed with Amrita’s friendship. I found her on Facebook through one of my very close school friends Anindarupa. Incidentally, I realized that Amrita also went to a Christian missionary school, and we nurture a similar perspective in life. She founded Aranyaj society back in 2008 with a vision to make this world a better place for underprivileged kids. Aranyaj’s mission and vision touched my inner soul, especially the “Pathsala” project. I decided to assist her in her journey to help as many kids to make their everyday lives better.

Around the world today, 16% of people are underprivileged kids.
Gandhi once said, “If we want to reach real peace in the world, we should start educating children.” Education is the key to success. Education is the most meaningful tool you can receive. It can also bring you the most success in life. It lessens the challenges you will face in life. The more knowledge an individual has, the more opportunities are opened. These allow an individual to grow their career and carve their future.

Underprivileged kids experience the harshest realities in life. Most do not have their right to emotional, physical and social development. Through the “Pathsala” project, we can educate the younger generation and help our society become a better place. Though I cannot help every child, I know I can help many by supporting Amrita in her endeavor. Join us in our journey to carve a better future for them. “

Anindarupa Chunder

Scientist, California, USA

I was born and brought up in Kolkata, West Bengal as a Bengali. My schooling was at a Christian missionary institution. I must say that it was the learning from my school and also a part of my family, which kept me connected and resilient to every phase of my life when sometimes I had things, sometimes not. By things, I meant small materialistic pleasure as a child and as I slowly matured as a teenager and an adult, those things were, sometimes, a high course fee, travel, or even a book. I was blessed since my ‘not having’ phase was transient; but my surroundings and the excerpts of my readings, made me completely aware of the privileges that I had over others. I realized that I had 

enough to prepare a short runway for myself. At the same time, I could also prepare myself to be on my toes always to take on the unknowns that might change the course of my life very quickly from the haves to have-nots. All these helped in the long run. I pursued higher studies at Calcutta University, worked for a couple of years, and then came to the United States for Ph.D. Today I work as a technical staff member in the research division of a company. I joined Amrita in her endeavor with Aranyaj and the project ‘Pathshala’. 

French poet Victor Hugo once said: “He who opens a school door, closes a prison,” meaning education is the key to success. However, for the people of Sundarbans, there is little cheer about the opportunity, the children get there in terms of education, food, and other basic rights. Pathshala is pledged to lift the barrier. I am fortunate to be a small part of it. I wish all success to Amrita and thousands of others like her, who are working all over the world with millions of underprivileged children and adults. Although I will always remain connected to Bengal and parts of India, the country of my birth, I truly believe in ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’. Today, we live in a globalized era. Amidst boundaries of countries, we are all connected through the internet, Social media. So, I feel, it’s my duty as a global citizen to reach out to all the corners of this big space, wherever our fellow dwellers would need help, as per my capacity. As an individual, I try to contribute to the development of society and human welfare everywhere, in various forms, whenever possible.

Paromita Sarkar

Program Manager, Paypal, California, USA

“Every avalanche begins with the movement of a single snowflake, and I desire to move a snowflake”. – Thomas Frey.  

I am Paramita Sarkar, a bay area-based technology professional and a life-long advocate for human welfare and upliftment of the underprivileged. I contribute to this cause by providing them continued love & compassion, care, education, and monetary support.

I live in California, which is a beautiful place with beautiful people and is the land of infinite possibilities. Before that, I have spent all my life in Mumbai, and thanks to Mumbai, the essence of empathy, friendship, and caring for the community are instilled in me. Mumbai is the city of dreams, the city that has something for everyone who lives there. But some people do not have the privilege of exploring their dreams due to restrictions in their social upbringing or financial situation.  This journey started during my MBA days when I traveled on a bus that passed through Dharavi (the biggest slum area in the world) and my eyes caught some little kids sitting along the pavement trying to do their homework while their friends played in the nearby fields. One day, instead of taking the bus, I decided to walk that stretch and observe them closely. The gleam of hope in their eyes the minute I struck up a conversation with them, was unbelievable. At that very moment, my heart decided that I will help out kids like these and help them reach their dreams.

A strong desire, to do whatever possible from my side to help underprivileged kids became my motto of life. After a couple of months, when I got into a permanent job, I took full responsibility for my maid’s son to help out with his education monetarily and supported him through his 10th grade with teaching subjects, he needed help with. He blossomed into a confident youth who qualified to get higher education and stand on his own feet.

After I moved to California, the desire for the cause of helping out little kids kept growing in my heart. I wanted to keep looking for ways to help out. And then one day I found a little girl in Midnapur (through Children’s International) and adopted her virtually by fully supporting her in her education. Now she has completed her education and is working as a teacher at a primary school. This experience opened a bigger desire in my heart, to do something more on a larger scale. But something was missing during this experience. I needed a personal touch to my cause. I needed to interact with the kids directly so that I could find out how else I can help so that I could mold my support as per their needs. 

I was looking for an NGO which would give me the liberty to reach out to these kids and help out in their needs. I also wanted to work on empowering women with education and hygiene so that they can establish their place in this man dominated world. I wanted to lend my hand in pulling the girl child out of the darkness of self-pity and social restrictions so that they can build a better future for themselves, instill confidence in them and make them believe in themselves.  

I came across some videos that Amrita from Aranyaj Society had posted on Facebook which highlighted all the above aspects of my desire. I saw the beautiful smiles and gleam of hope on the little faces of the children in the schools that were established by Aranyaj and it reminded me of the day this cause had made space in my heart. I wanted to reach out and lend my support to each of the kids out there in Sundarbans and allow them to learn and grow. The desire to help these little minds in being independent, strong and educated individuals who can face the world with confidence became very strong in my heart and I decided to be a part of Aranyaj. 

I believe that although I cannot improve the lives of all the underprivileged kids in this world, I can certainly lend a helping hand to some of them and bring in a change that might make a difference in their lives and help in progressing our country. And I know I can achieve this dream of mine with the help of the Aranyaj Society. 

“Every individual can bring in a change if the desire is strong”. So, I invite you to join me in this journey and bring on the change this world needs.

Upasana Bose

Social Activist, Folk Singer & Classical Dancer

The strong desire to change the fortune of the unfortunate children of our society, got wings when I joined Aranyaj Society im 2008. I have taken up the responsibility to look after the deserted and unfortunate slum children living in Beleghata area of Kolkata. Me being an artist myself, I want to teach each one of these children the importance of art and culture in our lives. I want to introduce them to the cultural heritage of India so that they can take the responsibility to carry forward this beautiful culture.

One fine day, Amritadi approached me to see if I would be interested in joining the Pathshala project by helping out with conducting surveys and assessments of the areas for this project. But this task needed me to stay on in The Sundarbans. I accepted this offer without second thoughts. I believe that every kid has the right to basic education and a good nutritious meal and that this was also Pathashala’s target. And then my journey began.

The initial days in Sundarbans were immensely difficult, as joblessness, frustration, uncertainty and restlessness consumed the villagers of Sundarban. They were living on insufficient relief funds and groceries provided by the Government which was not enough for a living. There was no awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic that was engulfing the entire world. Villagers were suffering from COVID-19 like symptoms and did not have doctors that were ready to help them. We took it on our shoulders, to go and help out these people and give them some respite from their adversities. Our group of handful volunteers along with the medical guidance of Dr. Sunil Nag was able to reach these areas. But in turn our entire brave team of volunteers contracted COVID-19 and had to return back to Kolkata to isolate ourselves.

We had started our first Pathashala amidst this critical situation at Dakhshinpara in Jharkhali (Gram Panchayat). After we came back to Sundarban after our recovery from COVID, our project to establish a Pathshala in every village for Sundarbans took pace. By the end of 2020, we were able to set-up 10 Pathshalas in the not so remote villages.

The most challenging task that we faced during this, was recruiting good educators who could relate to the Pathashala motto and perform their tasks adhering to the Pathshala code of conduct. We had to train the educators before they were ready to educate the children at our Pathshalas.

Now I am proud to say that we have established 20 Pathshalas in the remote villages of Satjelia, Pathankhali, Kachukhali, Chhotomollakhali, Boromollakhali, Chandipur, Amlamethi, Tridib Nagar, Balikhal and more. Today 380 children are able to get basic education and nutritious food by being part of our Pathshala program. These children are now able to nurture their dreams and aspirations and will be able to live a life with opportunities.

This is a very hard journey, so I am asking for your support to help us accomplish our target to build one Pathashala in each of the 70 villages in Sundarban. This will not be an easy task without your help and best wishes.

So please come and join us in making this dream come true

About Us

Aranyaj-“Aranyaj Society For Educational And Environmental Development is a non-profit, Voluntary, Tax Exempted, 80G & FCRA registered organization, founded by a group of dedicated social workers for a greener- balanced – equal planet for all where not a single child is malnourished and deprived from education and development is sustainable where human and other species can live in harmony.


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