On the corner of a busy intersection in Kolkata sits Kailash Vidyamandir. Kailash is an all-boys primary school and a co-ed secondary school that serves 700 students. It’s been on that same corner for 167 years offering an opportunity for the poorest students of Kolkata to receive an education. The school is led by Biswajit Mitra, a man with a golden heart and an unparalleled commitment to education. Despite all the challenges that come with his job, Principal Mitra is one of the most optimistic people I’ve ever met. He has something special to share about each student (“Akash is an amazing dancer,” “Babusona has lovely handwriting,” “Nandi is a strong football player”) as well as each alumnus who comes back to the school to pay their respects. A few quick facts about Principal Mitra: He sometimes sleeps in his office to do morning exercises with the boys, he spends his weekends at education conferences, and is constantly trying to improve his school. In his 16 years as headmaster, he righted a school that was sinking fast, hired exceptional teachers, created the first dorm at a public school in Kolkata, and built a tight-knit community.
Supporting the principal is an incredible staff. Many of them could be elsewhere. As an example, the school’s head-warden, Sona Da, was a highly respected lawyer in Chetla (the neighborhood where Kailash is located). He was retired, but at the Principal’s urging, he joined the school. He now puts in 12-hour days making sure the 100 students who live in the dorm are fed, dressed up to standard, and healthy. Side note: he is also one of the flyest dressers of all time. The other staff at the school are excellent as well. There’s our security guard, Subrata, who doubles as the carpenter and the “dorm mother,” Tanusree, who is mischievous and likes to play pranks. No one is going through the motions at Kailash—they are working with a purpose.
Kailash is a government school. All its funding comes from the West Bengal government, and due to the state of the West Bengal economy coupled with the type of students Kailash serves, funds are scarce. Furthermore, the school takes in less money than it might due to Principal Mitra’s admirable decision to waive the 250 rupee ($5) annual admission fee because it would be too costly for many students. The school is weathered from years of neglect. Key pieces of infrastructure are worn down or missing altogether. So we need your help.