Dr Achyuta Samanta tells Shveata Chandel Singh how with just Rs 5000 in hand, he created India’s largest free residential institution for tribals
Born in a small village in Odisha, growing up on less than two square meals a day, losing his father when he was four Dr Achyuta Samanta may have been born in poverty, but, says the man behind the largest free residential institution for tribals in Asia, poverty is also what made him strong.
“My father died when I was four years old and I had to shoulder the responsibility of looking after the family from that young age. We sometimes did not have two meals a day. I had tried hard to conquer hunger without any reflection of it on my face,” says Dr Samanta. “Poverty made me determined to do something so others don’t face such difficulties. With that vision and mission in my heart I set up Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), in 1993, in Odisha,” he adds.
“I believe that poverty creates illiteracy and literacy eradicates poverty,” says Dr Samanta. He adds that KISS, which began as a small school for 125 under-privileged children, provides accommodation, food, health care and education from KG to PG absolutely free for 20,000 tribal children.
“We started this mission with just Rs 5000 and no infrastructure as I didn’t have any more money. I borrowed money from my friends and family as no bank was willing to lend me any. I would keep borrowing money to run the school, and it was only later, when the school started doing well, that I managed a bank loan, a part of which I invested in infrastructure, and the rest I used to repay my debts,” says Dr Samanta, who adds that he worked 16 hours a day, 365 days a year to turn KISS into one of the finest multi-disciplinary universities in India.
Dr Samanta says a big hurdle at KISS is to convince parents from the tribal community to send their children to school. “But we work consistently at it. These children are not only getting higher education/professional education but they act as agents of change in their society. It makes getting the next generation to come to school that much easier,” says Dr Samanta, who adds that he has aligned his work and activities with the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Dr Samanta now has another goal in mind — to educate 2 lakh underprivileged children free of cost in residential environments. “KIIT University is now fully independent and is managed well. There are no plans for expansion of KIIT University to any other part of the country or globe,” he says. But he does want to create 40 replicas of KISS in different parts of India, for which work has already begun.
“We have KISS Delhi, KISS Jharkhand, KISS Kanker (Chhattisgarh) and KISS Kerala in the pipeline. We are working hard to mobilise resources. But we will have more institutions coming up in next few years,” says Dr Samanta, who calls himself a bachelor, “married to his work”.
In recognition of his work, Dr Samanta has been made the Commission Member of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Executive Member of the All India Council of Technical Education (AICTE). He is also Executive Member of the Indian Society for Technical Education, President’s nominee into the apex bodies of several Central Universities and because of his efforts to make the tribals self-sufficient, he has been made the Member of Council for Advancement of People’s Action and Rural Technology (CAPART) and the Coir Board run by the Government of India. He has also been short- listed for many prestigious awards including the Qatar Foundation Prize. KISS is also in the Limca Book of Records (an India-specific record book) for being India’s largest free residential school for tribal children. He also received the prestigious Young EDGE award in 2010 for his pragmatic approach to education.
“There is still a long way to go before my dream of eradicating poverty through literacy comes true,” says Dr Samanta, who is clearly trying to get a step closer with every passing day.