Rev. Fr. Dr. J. Felix Raj, SJ
Moumita Das, the NSS Board Member got an opportunity to have a
one to one interaction with the person behind Prayas, Rev. Fr. Felix Raj, SJ.
Here is what Father had to say about this unique movement.
Father, what according to you is the outcome of Prayas?
The village children are benefitted academically. Firstly, children who have
gone through the Prayas classes fare better in their schools than the others,
because they have received greater help. St. Xavier’s College students are in
a privileged position, and they have the ability to help these village
students at least academically and motivationally. Secondly, the meeting point
of college and village is important. The whole idea behind “Village to College
and College to Village” is to bring about greater exposure. On the one hand,
our students gain perspective. On the other, the village children look up to
the college “didis” and “dadas” and aspire to be like them. For at least some,
this motivation has translated into a fruitful academic career and there are
students from these villages who have gone out to pursue higher studies in
various colleges. In fact, the whole village changes as a result of our
exposure. Villages like Debipur and Shalpukur are going through a tremendous
amount of positive change, not only academically but also in terms of outlook
Father, where do you see the need for our college students
to engage themselves in this movement?
Our college students need to be aware of their responsibilities toward the
larger sections of society. As Gandhi said, India lives in the villages. Going
to the villages and interacting with the people there gives them a sense of
the real India. The college students need to be in touch with reality.
Actually, living within the four walls of our homes or this college is not
real education. Nurturing love and concern for others, being willing to extend
a hand in service- all these things comprise a very important part of
Also, these experiences would challenge the students. . Our college students
amidst all their comforts and advantages, should be motivated to work harder
after being exposed to the harsher reality of rural India. There is a lot of
hesitation on the part of the college students when they visit a village for
the first time. But there has been a total transformation in the attitudes and
approaches of some of our students after two or three visits. This, for me, is
the crux of this project- the transformation of the mindset of our students
due to this project.
What is the future of the movement?
I am confident that this project will continue. In eight years, we have
expanded from one village to nine, and there have been requests from two or
three other villages also. There is a possibility of expanding this work
further in the coming years. One thing that needs to be done is the
strengthening of our structural base for organising it, maybe by involving
more people in the coordination of the project. A minor setback is the slowing
down of the financial contributions that our students had been making- but
that is not a disappointment as the project is not about economic outreach.
Financial aid is secondary. I am very optimistic. The commitment of our
students, at least a good number of them, is very genuine.
Is it feasible for other colleges to start a similar
project with the purpose of achieving 100% literacy?
We have implemented this project for 8 years. Somehow, our neighbourhood
colleges have not bought this idea. One reason for this obviously is the
presence of a unionised political atmosphere in most other campuses, which
hinders the undertaking of social activities. We can send a copy of the EMMRC
documentary on the Prayas movement to other colleges, convince them to perhaps
adopt one village, the way St. Xavier’s adopted Paikhala. In fact, the NSS
might take it up as a challenge to prepare a team of students and resource
persons and visit these colleges in order to motivate them to take up a
similar project. It is my dream: if 33,000 colleges adopt at least one village
each, there’ll be a total knowledge revolution. Unfortunately, it is not
Father, could you share one recollection that stands out in
your many years of experience with Prayas.
In the recent years, the enthusiasm of the village children of Debipur stands
out. I remember the eagerness with which they participate in the activities we
organise. Moreover, something very commendable is the whole-hearted support of
the teacher volunteers of the villages and the village women. I find them
standing in solidarity with us- they want the village to progress, the
children to be educated. This is something that is not very easily seen in