Bongera – the school in the jungle

Tucked away in the south-east corner of Jarkhand, Bongera is a collection of villages where some of the poorest children we teach walk, in sandals or bare feet, upwards of an hour each day to school. Apart from the rice their families may grow in the shallower valleys, they rely on the forests around them for most of their other needs, including whatever income they can make from harvesting resin (from lakh insects) or wild fruit.

Yet the forest is in a weakened state, with grazing animals making larger and larger clearings, more fields being cleared, and serious fighting between government forces and rebels (Naxalites) destroying further stretches of it. Most of these children have not been to a city, and are learning both Hindi and English (slowly) as new languages at school. They depend on the forest, and the forest is shrinking.

Some will break away to the city, as they grow older, for jobs and income. There they will find the country is desperate for green spaces, surviving ecosystems, jungle. What will it take for the value of their forests to be recognised by the whole country, and their role as its guardians and caretakers amply rewarded, so that the people of Bongera are honoured as those who maintain carbon sinks, oxygen supplies and wilderness for their fellow citizens?

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