Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Originally uploaded by dalbhat
Her full name is Durgesh Nandini Das but at Mustard Seeds, we know her fondly by her nickname, Reena – much simpler to say.

Reena was born and brought up in Assam. She moved to Kolkata after she married in the year 1976. Her father, the Late Kali Prasanna Das, was a well known freedom fighter and an All India Trade Union Leader. The prime minister asked him to accept a nomination for Member of Parliament but he refused this offer because he didn't want to work under someone else. He was one of the first 'rail roko andolan' in Indian Railway (stopping trains as a means of non-violent protest). West Bengal's late Communist leader, Jyoti Basu, wrote a letter to him asking him to stop the railways.

With a lot of inspiration to respond to the injustices present in the world around her, Reena began her lifework in 1999. When she was living near a refugee colony that set fire one day, her father gathered up all the family belongings and began to cook food to give to those who had been victimized by the fire. Reena never forgot this act of generosity, she grew up in a home where she learned that if someone has a problem you should always help them.

Later in her life, she was working in an office on Middleton Road and began teaching Muslim street children on the footpath. She continued doing this work quietly on her own after work for one year.

Finally someone gave her support and she was granted one room from the building owner to start teaching the children there. She gathered the students after office hours and the total number of students reached 90 at that time. She now knew that this was her lifework, and that she did not want to work in an office anymore. Although she was only working part-time, she eventually decided to give her job up so she could fully dedicate herself to developing education opportunities in extremely marginalized communities.

Some people in her family told her to stop doing this kind of work and make money for her own family but she knew she wanted to continue. Around this time, she met up with our dear friend, Rosalie Giffaniello, who said she would be very happy to support Reena's important work. Now, by teaming up with Rosalie's organization, EMPOWER THE CHILDREN, and gaining a much wider support network, the two women have opened several beautiful schools: one school in Ulta Danga (vocational skills training), one school in Dhakindari (a large slum/literacy and skills training program), and one school in Krishnapur (mainly vocational skills with some literacy). An NGO near Middleton Street continues her literacy work for disadvantaged children there.

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