Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Turning the tide

Good intentions of some NGOs can change lives. This is what happened in a poor village in Gujarat, where a charitable trust brought new light into the lives of tribal children

By Kaushik Joshi

When Narendra Modi, then Gujarat chief minister, came to Vaghai town in Navsari district of his state in 2013, Jignesh Chaudhary, a tribal student from a poor government residential school, took him by surprise. He spoke of India’s rich cultural heritage before a gathering of 10,000 people without any stage-fright. That’s the change that healthy intervention by NGOs can bring into the lives of poor tribals. No wonder Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel recently appealed to society and NGOs to adopt those government schools where teachers lack commitment and students fare badly in the board exams.

But let’s come to the poorly run school in Rambhas, some 60 km from Navsari, to which Jignesh belonged, and see the change fostered by an NGO run by Swami Narayan-swaroop Das (popularly known as Pramukh Swami). While on the one hand, he was instrumental in raising the imposing Akshardham Temple in New Delhi, he was also the heart behind transforming this school in a sleepy village in the tribal belt of south Gujarat. The school was founded way back in 1989, but had nothing going for it. When some educationists and social workers mooted the idea of adopting it in 2011, Pramukh Swami was game for it.

Pramukh Swami maharaj
Pramukh Swami Maharaj

He first asked some of his sadhus and devotees to take stock of the situation. Says Nanubhai Desai, 65, one of the trustees of the Gnan Seva Charitable Trust that now runs the adopted school: “We were shocked to find that the students in this school were served skimpy meals of half-baked rotis and watery vegetables. Further, civic amenities in the hostel were barely enough.” So where did the money given by the government go? 

Worse, teachers did not take the number of classes assigned to them. They also found that some students would pilfer rice from the hostel granary, go to the river bank, catch fish and eat it with the rice cooked there.

In particular, the team found that the school, which they wanted to adopt, badly needed a facelift, especially the hostel building, the kitchen and classrooms.

Once the decision to adopt was taken, the trust lost no time in swinging into action. They first replaced the teachers and recruited applicants who valued their jobs. Then, all the amenities were taken care of. Today, after renovation and restoration, the ashramshala (school) wears a verdant, spic-and-span look, quite a change from the earlier barren one.

(L-R) Trustee Nanubhai Desai and Principal Ramesh Bhagariya


The renovated kitchen is comfortably spacious and ventilated, complete with boilers for cooking vegetables and a water cooler. The school also has its own water tank and better toilets.

The students, numbering 200, including 65 girls, sit in well-equipped, airy classrooms with comfortable benches, a large blackboard and fans. They have 11 computers and an LCD projector, as well as software programs on subjects they have to study. Plus, the teachers are devoted and take all the classes assigned to them.
Dharmesh Bhoye, a Class XII student, says: “Earlier, we had just two to three classes daily. Teachers worked at will. The food was unpalatable and barely enough. Now, we have eight periods a day and the food is heal-thy and has variety.”

The change has been brought about in other spheres too. Nimisha Valu of Class VIII says: “Earlier, the warden of our hostel used to sleep during the day. He had no idea what his job was. Ever since the Gnan Seva Trust took over, all our needs are taken care of.” The students also have new sets of plates and bowls to eat from. Books and uniforms for the students are free.

Photo 9 SPPPpp
Students Taking their lessons seriously

But the physical changes in the school were the least of the problems for the trustees. They had a more challenging task ahead. Initially, the students were not prepared to have eight periods a day as they were used to the three that the teachers earlier took. However, with the concerted effort of the new teachers, the trustees were able to inculcate disciplined and a strict schedule and the overall attitude changed.

Ramesh Bhagariya, 39, the principal of the school, who was appointed in January 2014, says: “Earlier, the students were not even exposed to writing. We had to teach them that writing was an integral part of schooling. Now, they are keen about it and take periodic tests as well.”

Discipline has also been enforced in day-to-day activities by the trustees, warden Balu Jadav and the principal. The day starts early. Hostellers wake up at 5 am and after a bath, study for an hour. Then, another hour goes in prayers and cleanliness. At 9.30 am, they have breakfast, after which they go to school. And this discipline is reflected in their Board results. Until the Gnan Seva Trust adopted it in 2011, the pass percentage in the SSC Boards was below 25 percent. But with a lot of effort by the trustees and teachers, it went up as high as 80 percent in 2014.

Bhagariya explains: “Before the school was adopted, the students fared badly because the teachers didn’t care a fig either for them or the results, as they were secure in their government jobs. The new teachers are both qualified and devoted. Therefore, the results have improved.”

Bhagariya himself is a tribal with a rich experience of teaching tribal students. He lives 30 km away and goes home only during the weekends.

“The students are little gods for me. Their parents hardly get time to come to school due to their daily grind. If I don’t care for their progeny, who will?” he asks.
With good results, the students too have become ambitious. Says Bhargav Chau: “My father sells vegetables, but I want to become a civil engineer.”

Bhavesh Raut of Class XI reveals: “My father used to drink a lot, but ever since this trust was started, he left drinking. As for me, I want to grow into an ideal citizen. This is more valuable than making lots of money.”

The positivity and dedication in the school can also be seen in the students’ extracurri-cular activities. While there are students like Jignesh Chaudhary who are good in debating, others are proficient in ballet. Thakor Daniel of Class XI was selected at the district level for representing the state in yoga. Karate and kabaddi are also played.

There’s a new sense of pride in environment and not only teachers but also students take out time to care for the environment. Students with green fingers have adopted trees in the school premises and water them regularly. A placard near each sapling
pronounces the name and class of the caretaker student.
It is obvious that without timely intervention and warmth, these students would have been doomed to a sorry fate like the rest of their clan.

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