Father V M Thomas, 64, an educationist and social worker for the past forty years, has been helping thousands of Assam's violence-hit children pick up the pieces of their life and join the mainstream society. By providing access to education, skill development, training and jobs, Fr Thomas has helped countless children take control of their lives by shaping their careers and empowering them extend a helping hand towards others as well.
“Many of the children, who had found refuge in the relief camps or remote villages having lost everything during ethnic clashes, are now pursuing careers in various streams and are in a position to help others overcome their traumas and join the social mainstream. The CARE literacy project, which continues to provide education and succor to
the violence-hit children, has been on since 1996 with five full-fledged schools in Kokrajhar and Chirang districts,” said Father V M Thomas, Founder Director of Don Bosco Institute (DBI) and Don Bosco Institute of Management in Guwahati.
A Harvard graduate in Educational Administration, Planning and Social Policy, Fr V M Thomas has had a very illustrious career as an educationist and social worker. He had been a visiting Faculty member at the Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, teaching IAS cadres prepare for the life ahead. He was
adjudged the best faculty member year after year by the IAS probationers at LBS Academy. He has been visiting the premiere management institutes delivering lectures and sharing his experiences.
From teaching at the hallowed precincts of India's most elite institutes to the relief camps of Assam has been quite an experiential journey for Fr Thomas who wears many caps and is associated with some of the top notch premier educational institutes of India.
Lamenting the falling standards and commercialization of education in general, Fr Thomas said, “The focus on human values is essential to build a `Civilization of Love' and should be at the very core of any educational endeavour. Sadly, in today's world we have all become consumers of knowledge and not producer of knowledge,” Fr Thomas said.
“There is a 30 per cent drop out in class 1 itself in schools and only twenty out of every hundred students reach class X and the number of pass outs are even less. There is something wrong with the education system which is affecting the quality of students in India. Students are not taught to think critically and analyze. The result is that ninety per cent of the students cannot apply knowledge in day to day life. Also, there is a huge gap in the standard of education in rural and urban areas of India. This anomaly must be addressed by the government and the students in rural areas should have access to proper educational infrastructure and standards,” he said.
The vision of `Building Dreams, Shaping Lives, and Influencing Society' that brought Fr Thomas back to Guwahati in 1993, renouncing the ambitious post of a trainer at the prestigious Harvard University. Placed at the helm of the Don Bosco Youth Mission and Educational Services (DBYES), the nodal agency for youth work and educational
services of the Salesians of Don Bosco, Province of Guwahati, Fr Thomas started his educational venture with Rs 10,000 and 100 sq ft space. That initiative has now grown and spread and includes the first private standalone University of Assam with constituent units under its direct management.
The Bosco Barefoot College or Boko, in Assam's Kamrup district is a new concept conceived and actualized by Fr Thomas. A similar work is being carried out in Bhooteachang, in the Udalguri District of Assam. Under his tutelage the rural vagabonds and the wayward school drop-outs have found ways and means of developing skills within their
means such as carpentry, masonry, tailoring, mushroom cultivation, fishery, handicrafts, agriculture, vermi-compost, candle making, book binding etc., which gives them a decent livelihood.
The Deprived Urban Children (DUC) project offers bridge courses for the out of school children and thousands of students have been brought to the mainstream.
“In the wake of rabid commercialization, the Indian education system has to seriously introspect and even re-invent itself. Focus and effort to bring back value education would certainly be a good first step,” said Fr Thomas.