Priest convinces tribe to send kids to school

By Santosh Digal

Bhubaneswar: A Catholic priest in an eastern Indian state has managed to convince Ho tribe’s first generation children to go to school.

Father Xavier Camil Tirkey, parish priest of Dhanmandal in Jajpur district of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese, has worked among Ho tribes of Jajapur district, Odisha, for the past six years. Now he is educating 31 Ho tribal students, including five are girls, from the district.

“It was not easy to convince the parents, who are illiterate and unskilled laborers. After repeated interactions with their parents, they realized the importance of educating their children,” Father Tirkey told Matters India.

This is how it all began. From 2008 to 2010, the priest used to travel off and on from Dhanmandal, 61 km west of Bhubaneswar, the state capital, in a train, to different locations as part of his work.

During those years, he met a Ho boy, Rama Bandera, then five years, who lived at Dhanmandal railway station. Once the priest asked the boy what he was doing and what he wished to do. Bandera said that he was a beggar but wished to study if he got a chance. The priest assured him he would educate him if he went and stayed with him. The boy agreed.

In 2010, Bandera was the first Ho tribe to stay with the priest. After a few days three more boys—Biren Sirca and Raja Digi and Gagan Digi joined Bandera. They are now in the sixth grade in a nearby public-government school and stay in a hostel managed by the priest. The number of students grew steadily over the years.

Today Bandera tops in all exams of the school. “I am happy that my encounter with Fr. Tirkey has changed my destiny and that of other Ho children. If it were not to be the effort of the priest, I and many of my fellow friends would be in shambles,” Bandera said with teary eyes.

“I wish to inspire that every Ho tribe child should go to school even if it is too late,” Bandera said.

When asked what motivated the priest to help these Ho boys and girls, Father Tirkey, an Oraon tribe himself from Jharkahand, said, “My desire was that education is important to change the destiny of these Ho tribes. There are many more children who do not go to school. We keep our efforts on to send more and more Ho tribe children of the area to school.”

He firmly believes that it is education that brings changes in the lives of these Ho tribes, he said.

Along with this education mission, the priest’s concurrent crusade is that parents of these children would discontinue consuming local brewed liquor—handia (rice bear). At least he has been successful for these 31 parents of the kids.

Odisha has the largest number of tribes among all Indian states — as many as 62 distinct groups. They form 24 percent of Odisha’s 43.73 million people. The Indian government has listed them among the most backward communities in the country. Ho tribe is one of them.

Ho tribes also found in other States of India and South Asian countries. Ho tribes also known as the Lanka Kol or the Bihar Ho tribes. Ho literately means ‘Man’ and the tribal people are found in Singbhum district of Bihar, and Mayurbhanj district of Odisha, parts of West Bengal, Bangladesh and Nepal. Their language is also known as Ho.

These people mainly depend on cultivation for survival. However, in the recent years, toindustrialization and climatic changes have adversely affected their life. Many young people now as coolies mines and plant as they are not skilled workers.

They need to be empowered socially, educationally and economically. Due to their seclusion, they remain educationally, economically and socially backward.

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