Swapnil Tembe

Shillong: Swapnil Tembe, an IAS officer currently serving as the sub-divisional officer (SDO) (civil) at Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills district, has gone above and beyond the call of duty, quite literally.

In a bid to renovate and improve government-run schools of the area, Tembe initiated ‘Project STAR’ (which is an acronym for School Transformation by Augmenting Resources), a crowdfunding initiative. The project, which started in the month of October last year, has so far received a good response with donations pouring in from all corners of the country. Tembe used ‘Milaap’, a crowdfunding platform, to raise funds for the project.

The Songadinggre Lower Primary School located in Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills before being renovated

In his personal capacity, the young IAS officer is also supporting an ‘adopt a school’ initiative, through which he is encouraging people to come forward and adopt a government school.

As a start, Tembe himself adopted the Songadinggre Lower Primary School in Dadenggre and donated two months of his salary to improve the infrastructure of the institution, which was earlier lying in a shambles.

The Songadinggre Lower Primary School located in Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills after it was ‘adopted’ by Swapnil Tembe

Reflecting upon how it all began, Tembe told EastMojo, “When I got to know that our honourable chief minister Conrad K Sangma donated his salary to renovate a school in Nongstoin, I felt that it was such an inspirational gesture. That’s when I decided that I would take up one school too by donating two months of my salary. But, the school I had in mind needed severe repairs that would need additional funds. So, I initiated an online crowdfunding campaign for school renovation around the time of Diwali last year. Many people from Meghalaya and across the country contributed in this campaign and made it successful.”

The Songadinggre LP School also had an anganwadi centre, a kind of a rural childcare centre, adjacent to it, which was in a dilapidated condition. Thanks to the SDO’s initiative, the centre too got a major overhaul with beautiful murals and improved infrastructure. “Children now like to spend time at the anganwadi centre, and even the workers feel motivated and enjoy their work here,” said Tembe.

Children playing at the renovated anganwadi centre near the Songadinggre Lower Primary School located in Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills

Apart from renovating schools, a public library has also been set up at Dadenggre under the ambitious project. The library completely runs on solar energy and all the equipment have been donated by the Power Grid Corporation of India under its Corporate Social Responsibilty (CSR) programme. More than 3,000 books have so far been donated to the rural library through crowdfunding from all over the country.

The anganwadi centre near the Songadinggre Lower Primary School in Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills, as it looked before and after the renovation

Tembe said, “The inhabitants of rural areas lack the habit of reading, and this library will hopefully help promote a reading culture among them.”

Meanwhile, Tembe has approached the government to help him in the project, but is yet to get a response from them.

Hailing from Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, Tembe was inducted into the Assam-Meghalaya cadre in 2015, and his inclination towards improving education in rural areas began when he was attached to the Union ministry of human resource development (MHRD) at the Central Secretariat for three months as part of his training regime. After interacting with fellow officers and discussing the education scenario in the state and considering the significant role good education can play in improving the standard of living, he decided to work towards facilitating improvement of government run schools. And, so he did.

A renovated classroom of the Songadinggre Lower Primary School in Dadenggre in Meghalaya’s West Garo Hills

The officer draws his inspiration from his father, who was a social worker associated with Ram Krishna Mission, and later took to teaching the underprivileged children. Recalling an incident that left a mark on him, Tembe said, “One day I accompanied him to the place where he gave tuition, the last slot was earmarked for the special batch comprising of underprivileged children whose parents couldn’t afford the fees. I asked one boy what he wanted to become; ‘teacher’, he responded without a thought. Surprised at the clarity, I asked him why? ‘I will also run a special batch’, he said gleefully”.

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