The organisation "The Learning Tree Foundation"

boy rice

The Learning Tree Foundation is a project run by the LOVE Society, a tribal organisation in the eastern state of Orissa, India. It functions as a residential school where 3-16 year old tribal orphans from around the area are looked after and educated. It is situated in a rural part of the Kutra Tehsil. This residential school has been in existence for several years but has recently been given a separate identity by the Society and is now called The Learning Tree Foundation.

The Society that runs The Learning Tree Foundation was founded in 1981 by Patras Dungdung, a tribal person himself who dedicated his life to helping tribal communities and children without families. Today, many more children in the area who do not have access to decent education attend classes run by the Foundation. The scope for expanding the services to many more children in need is immense.

Aside from the Learning Tree Foundation, the Society also runs a small home in an urban slum in the city of Rourkela, roughly two hours away from the residential school for orphans under the age of 3. Over the last 30 years, the organisation’s dedicated staff have cared for several hundred children by providing a secure environment, education, health care and nutrition. In addition, the organisation placed emphasis on the education of local tribal communities by providing training and awareness-raising programmes to improve the livelihood of those living there and restore the cultural heritage of the area.

A total of 100 children are being cared for by seven dedicated workers, eight employed teachers as well as two elderly people who seek shelter at the organisation and help out with the day-to-day work.

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The children are in many cases severely malnourished when they are taken in and typically need a lot of attention and care. They are either brought to the organisation's doorstep or are referred by the police or social workers. While some have no parents, others come from families who face extreme hardship, including young single mothers and poverty-stricken tribal families who are not in a position to care for or educate their children. Many of those working in the organisation come from a similar background, and have found a livelihood caring for the children as social workers, teachers or household staff. One such example is Beronika Toppo who came to the organisation as a baby and now at the age of 17 plays an integral part in the running of the school and orphanage.

The dedicated staff do not receive any financial remuneration, but only shelter, food and clothing, while the teachers, who are mainly drawn from nearby villages, receive a small salary. In addition to the staff, the children play an important role in the day-to-day running of the organisation. They help with the construction of new buildings or with agricultural activities, as well as teaching and caring for the younger children. The organisation provides a loving and caring environment to foster the children's emotional, social and educational development. Its few, sparsely furnished buildings function as dormitories, dining and meeting rooms, while there are also kitchen, toilet and washing facilities on site. With its well and its flower, fruit and vegetable beds, the garden is an oasis within an otherwise harsh environment.

The school

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For most of the children, The Learning Tree Foundation offers their only chance of an education. The nearest state school is some distance away and state provision is often inadequate due to insufficient resources. The Foundation currently provides an informal education programme up to 10th standard based on the state curriculum. There is also an emphasis on traditional tribal values, reflecting the background of most of the children. They learn the indigenous language, as well as traditional music and dance. They also have an opportunity to participate in cultural competitions at a local and regional level. In addition, regular yoga seminars teach the children concentration, physical exercise and discipline.

While the school is not yet recognised as a formal school by the government, many of the children appear privately for the 10th state board examination. Eventually, some stay at the organisation and become staff members, while others return to their original villages. A central aspect of The Learning Tree Foundation's philosophy is that of helping the children to help themselves. The children are taught how to process nutritional and medicinal products from sustainable agriculture and forest management. Berries, fruit and mushrooms, for example, are collected and preserved; soap and washing powder are manufactured, and then sold in local markets. The children acquire skills which they can later use to support themselves in the community, hopefully preventing their migration into the larger cities in search of work.

Adivasi clan people