Crowdfunding a school: Kolkata’s Umeed Academy raised Rs 7 crore in 1 week for a new campus, building

Umeed Academy’s new campus can accommodate five times as many children. Its founder, Wali Rahmani, hopes for CBSE affiliation.

Providing eduction of the rich to the poor (Image : Careers360)Providing eduction of the rich to the poor (Image : Careers360)

Pritha Roy Choudhury | February 20, 2024 | 04:16 PM IST

TILJALA, KOLKATA: Umeed Academy, now functioning from a three-storey building deep inside Tiljala, a congested, underprivileged, South Kolkata colony, had started with just three orphan children in 2018. Managed by its three trustees, Wali Rahmani, Gazala Imam and Yusuf Haq, it now teaches 300 children from the slums for free and provides shelter to a few orphans.

But a few months from now, the school will shift to a new campus and building in the South 24 Parganas district. In September 2023, Rahmani had crowdfunded this building, raising Rs 7 crore in just a week by campaigning on social media. The new campus will accommodate about five times as many students, have modern labs and a curriculum.

The school was founded by Rahmani who, in 2018, was 18 and just out of school himself. “Children begging, doing odd jobs, or resorting to crime – I could never see such things and remain calm. It used to disturb me,” said Rahmani. He was determined to help children, arm them with education. “The only vaccine for poverty is education. If they come out of poverty, they will come out of its vicious cycle and help their parents, the next generation, to be on par with everybody else – like you and me,” he added.

Rahmani is very intelligent, sorted and loves working for the poor, said Yusuf Haq, a trustee who sees Rahmani as a son. “When he came up with the idea of the school, I told him that we – Gazala Imam and I – were there to support him,” said Haq.

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Rs 7 crore in 7 days

With rising demand from students and parents in the community for admission, Rahmani and his team started facing acute space constraints. As many as 1,500 students had sought admission. The current building can barely fit 300 and has no open space. A bigger space and better infrastructure were urgently needed. That demanded funds.

Rahmani felt the best way to raise funds for his project was to crowdfund. A YouTube influencer with a decent following helped out. He made an appeal for funds in one of his videos. The clip clicked with viewers and money started flowing in and fast.

“We received Rs 7 crore in seven days,” said Haq. “From three students to 300 now, we have so many helping hands in terms of time, money, and expertise. Anything which is required and whenever it is required, people somehow show up and help,” said Haq.

With money flowing into his account so rapidly, the bank authorities had raised an alarm assuming it was a scam. “I had to give them another bank account as the previous one had stopped accepting funds,” said Rahmani.

Rahmani had appealed for Rs 10 crore in September 2023. Construction of the new school in South Kolkata is now complete. Classes in the new building will start from April 2024.

umeed academy, kolkata, school education news, cbse school, wali rahmani founderWali Rahmani, Umeed Academy (Image: Special arrangement)

New school building

The new building is in Bhojerhat, South 24 Parganas, Kolkata. When the trustees expressed interest in a particular site which was up for sale, they were called for a visit. It was a beautiful open area measuring 100 katha or 3.13 acres and everyone liked it at once. When they enquired about the cost, the owner’s response shocked them.

“The gentleman said he was not ready to sell the land. We were very upset,” said Haq. But to their surprise, the three were told that the land would be given to them for free. He and four friends had bought that land in 2000 aiming to build a school. They even registered the land in the name of “Ak Hadi Educational Trust”. But they could not manage to do it. Over two decades went by and now they are too old to build it. So they wanted to donate it to Umeed Academy.

The trustees tried to get the land registered under Umeed Academy’s name, but could not. “We bought another 27 katha and now Umeed Academy has 127 katha in total. But the entire land is registered in the name of Ak Hadi Educational Trust,” said Haq.

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CBSE curriculum

Currently, the academy is able to cater to students studying from nursery to Class 6. They follow the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) curriculum. The new Umeed Academy building will admit students up to Class 10 initially and then aims to have a student strength of 30 in each class with separate sections for girls and boys. The school will be affiliated to CBSE.

Plans for the new campus include an innovation and technology laboratory where the students will be taught coding, robotics and drone technology, artificial intelligence, and data analytics. “This is us trying to provide the poor education of the rich,” said Rahmani.

It has over 25 teachers and house parents and each child is given ‘sponsored’ books, notebooks and stationery. Classes are held from 10 am to 2 pm. During this time, children are served two meals – breakfast and lunch. Many students stay back till 7 pm when their parents come and pick them up. About 15 students stay at the academy.

Out of poverty

Rahmani’s father was once a hand-rickshaw puller. “Because of sheer hard work, he is now a leather merchant,” he said. His mother is a homemaker and Rahmani is the eldest of three siblings.

umeed academy, kolkata school, cbse school, ngo schoolUmeed Academy students leaving for home (Image: Careers360)

He studied from private schools in Kolkata and the National Capital Region. After school, he earned a BA-LLB degree from Jamia Hamdard, a deemed-to-university in Delhi. But he is yet to register with the Bar Council of India (BCI). He now hopes to pursue a master’s degree in social entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom.

Minority institution

Offering secular, mainstream education, the academy caters to children from all faiths, though most are Muslim. The target areas are slums with a mainly Muslim population.

But with time, the number of non-Muslim students is also increasing. “About 70% of the children belong to the Muslim community and the rest from other faiths,” said Haq.

Members of the institution are now working towards getting it registered as a minority institution. “Our aim now is to impart holistic education and cultivate life skills among our children so that they are not only self-reliant, but also can help those in need,” said Rahmani.

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