Teacher “gone fishing” may mean absenteeism in many schools across Assam’s rural landscape, but at the Simbargaon Higher Secondary School, it’s a reality. About 15 km north of Kokrajhar, the headquarters of the Bodoland Territorial Region, the school, founded in 1939, is a landmark in Simbargaon village.
In high demand among parents, the school resembles a botanical park covering more than seven acres with classrooms built like cottages. Classes are in the Bodo language for the Bodo tribal students, and in Assamese for the Adivasi and Muslim students. A strong reason for parents clamouring for admission is the focus on nutrition powered by the vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, and the fish the school farms.
“What reassures us is that our children get good food during their midday meal,” Kamal Basumatary, the father of a student said. The emphasis on quality food has yielded results. The students have built up a reputation in sports, emerging as runners-up at the last U-14 Kokrajhar district-level summer school tournament.
Varnali Deka, Kokrajhar’s Deputy Commissioner, said the district had been lacking in terms of nutrition parameters. “However, with the convergence of efforts of the departments, institutions, and the community, we have seen awareness and efforts to eat right over the last couple of years,” she told The Hindu.
Schools like Simbargaon HS — one of Kokrajhar’s 16 schools that added mushrooms to their nutri-gardens — have taken the mission to a different level, district officials said.
Locals attribute its uniqueness to the passion with which the principal Sansuwmi Basumatary and chowkidar Shambhu Charan Mushahary pursue farming within the premises, besides doing their regular jobs.
“I studied in this school and was fortunate to become its Principal five years ago. I have not done anything significant, just tried to give back something to the institution that made my career,” Mr. Basumatary said.
Apart from planting shade, flowering, and wood-yielding trees, the duo have nurtured an orchard comprising jackfruit, guava, banana, and lemon. With the involvement of the teachers, non-teaching staff, and students, they started growing seasonal vegetables too.
“Vegetables and eggs are served regularly. We also provide chicken procured locally and fish occasionally, whenever we catch them in our two bigha pond,” Mr. Basumatary, who teaches English, said.
The school also saves on timber needed for new desks and benches or for repairing old ones. The raw material comes from gambhari (beechwood or white teak), which the school grows. “We currently have 40 gambhari trees. A sapling is planted whenever one is hewn for furniture the school needs,” Mr. Basumatary said. He said the students, currently 503 in number, are taught various aspects of growing their food so that they could earn a livelihood if they could not make it through academic pursuit.
The efforts come at a cost. The school gets an annual grant of ₹75,000 for maintenance and various expenditures, including an average of ₹1,000 on electricity per month. “It is not enough. We manage with our farming and a bit of pooling of resources,” Mr. Basumatary said.