• KISS, Bhubaneswar - 751024


#Nomore Dongria Kondhs from Niyamgiri Hills 2

9% of India’s population is tribal. Despite constitutional promise of social justice and protection through affirmative action, the tribal population in India live in deplorable conditions in the dense forests and remote hinterlands. These original inhabitants (hence the name Adivasi) worked in proximity with nature and were the custodians of Mother Earth. Adivasis live a simple life, eat forest sustainable produce, use indigenous medicine and have their own form of learning through tales from the proceeding generations. The rich heritage of their culture makes each tribal group unique from the other but they are united by the vicious cycle of poverty and lack of formal learning. With the planned development and advent of globalisation era, their habitat was ruthlessly destroyed by the mining firms and industries. This led in the displacement of the tribal people from their area of origin. The compensation given to them in form of a work offer or petty cash was never enough, pushing them further to the margins.

In Odisha, over 22.8 percent of the population is tribal. They live in utmost poverty with low literacy rates, rampant child marriage and superstition. The tribal people had no access to healthcare facilities. The schools and colleges in the villages and hinterlands were too few. Poor infrastructure, teacher absenteeism, lack of toilets, pressure to handle siblings and go for work bedevil the education system in tribal areas.

To ameliorate the sufferings of the tribal poor, KISS started back in early nineties when India was just starting to integrate with the global economy. Huge strides in the field of education were missing in Odisha let alone education for the tribal children. It was a grey area where Government chose not to intervene except for the mere lip service and the private organisations could not muster up the courage to create waves of change. It was that time, with limited or no finances, KISS was founded being convinced that only Education can empower the people. It is the main weapon to fight poverty, hunger, gender disparity and achieve sustainable development.

Making it a residential school in the capital city of Bhubaneswar was a conscious decision. The availability of teachers in urban area was the major pull factor. Besides the tribal children, many of who did not even get a square meal required the promise of security of food, healthcare and capacity to aspire. Moreover, the dropout rate in the day schools was higher especially in the secondary and higher secondary levels. This was mostly because the poor parents required the help from additional hands to fill many stomachs. Many girls had to drop out because of the non- availability of toilets and tending to their younger siblings besides doing all household chores. Though many tribal societies are matriarchal there are rampant cases of child marriage and sexual exploitation. Education in a far-off capital city would mean the students were also away from the clutches of Naxalites. It was also easy to create infrastructure, bit by bit in the capital city of Odisha as KISS was always operating on shoe-string budgets.

Tribal dance by KISS Students
Achyuta Samamta at KISS Foundation

Odisha’s tribal population is spread throughout the 30 districts and making a centre close to them in their districts was not possible. A centralised structure in the capital city with access to all resources was essential to become the nerve centre of education for tribal boys and girls. Very few schools in the government and private operated solely for the tribal populace. But we decided on one principle that was adhered to, all throughout our function and operation, is to have indigenous control of education and always take pride in the tribal culture, art, dance, language, folklore and so on.

KISS sits near India’s east coast in the state of Odisha. The institute now supports 30,000 students from grades one through graduate training who are drawn from 62 different Indian tribal groups. Launched in 1993 with just 125 tribal children, the school ultimately aims to educate 2 million of India’s poorest children over the next decade. Indigenous education – Basic services, such as lodging, food, and medical care, are free for KISS students. It is located at the intersection of Education, Food and Holistic Development. 20,000 students have already passed out from the Institute and are creating change in the community. The satellite centers of KISS are coming up in 10 districts of Odisha to caters to 10,000 other tribal children. It started modestly with 125 students has now become the world’s largest institution providing comprehensive development to the tribal children. It has created a wave of change and revolution among the communities through its ceaseless efforts. Most of the children who arrive at KISS come from villages with poor sanitation and little or no electricity or running water; in many cases, their whole village has been forcibly relocated by the government in order to make way for mining, logging, and dam construction.

The mothers of KISS students are usually illiterate, having had no formal education; their fathers often receive schooling up to only fifth grade, and many can do little more than signing their names. Many Indigenous families are unable to consistently feed their children. For them, stepping onto the grounds of KISS is an invitation to a brighter future. The parents and guardians look forward to admitting their students to KISS.

Starting was never easy. It had a lot of setbacks. The first ten years were very difficult. The common man considered KISS’ initiative as intrusion. It continued overcoming all adversities. The challenges did not end after establishing these institutions and running it successfully for 25 years. It exists till today and for lifetime till KISS continues.

KISS Foundation Classroom Photo