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Michael Hoppkins’ dream factory at DhaparMaath

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You might often notice most of us frowning in disgust while passing a particular area along the Eastern Metropolitan Bypass --- DhaparMaath. It is considered as one of the dirtiest places of Kolkata, the huge store house of the smelly garbage of the entire city that is dumped and piled up here. You can even get a glimpse of this mountain of garbage while going down Tangra. Starting from plastic bottles, dead animals, from raw to rotten food – everything thrives here. But there is also a dream factory that runs behind this heap of dirt. And that factory churns out children who are well versed, some are great dancers, some musicians and artists.

All these children whose dreams are nurtured in this dream factory are in some way or the other related to the dirt and grime of the DhaparMaath. Either their families are ragpickers, or they are sweepers or even some who survive on the garbage and thrown away stuff. And the man who has taught these kids to dream is Michael Hoppkins, an Irishman and a social worker, who has made Kolkata his second home. His command over the Bengali language can leave many new-age anglicized Bengalis ashamed. His dream factory is known as ‘Friends of Kolkata’ that started way back in 1997.

Michael had come to Kolkata on an assignment and had instantly fell in love with the very sight of the city, its diverse culture and the warmth of its thriving population. He badly wanted to do something significant for the city. The agonies lurking within the city made him as melancholic as much as the spirit of the city would bring him joy.His journey started with the help of a NGO and the possibility of constructing a dream factory at DhaparMaath came upon. Michel had his own reasons for selecting the dirtiest place of the city like Dhapa ground for the execution of the dream. In his own words: “What seems to be dirt to you offers livelihood for others. They spend their days in those dirty places in order to earn bread for their families. I just tried to make their days slightly better, and it was my experiment.” True, there are many families who survive on this garbage. Some extract skin of dead animals from the heap to send them to local tanneries, while some segregate plastics for recycling. Some search for metal scarps to be used in some other industries. Layers of wonders are unfolded as you get to know about them in depth. The children of those families living far beyond the constricted boundaries of our knowledge are now receiving the light of education from Michel’s endeavour. Some are also shining bright in this path of enlightenment.

What an inspiration when one of the kids from Michael’s dream factory goes on to study in college, or even another joins a popular band after learning to rock and dance like Michael Jackson. Presently there are eight teachers and about one hundred and fifty students of different age groups receiving education, music and sports lessons from his school. Some of the mothers are also taught stitching and have been given sewing machines to earn a livelihood.

A few years ago, DhaparMaath was the hub of young drug addicts. Michael’s dream factory has changed the entire scene. The little ones are now seen in school uniforms, studying, learning to play and most importantly, learning to live. The gloom of the garbage land does not touch them anymore. On the contrary, they are setting a great example to the society and emerging as a new ray of hope.