Poorest of poor dalit children get a world-class education
The Shanti Bhavan (Haven of Peace) school near Bangalore sets out to prove that children from extremely poor backgrounds, if given the right education and technology, succeed in a globalised world as well as their better-off counterparts
A dusty one-hour drive from Bangalore brings you to Shanti Bhavan residential school set up by Abraham George, an Indian who, after making it big in America, returned to India with a mission: to open a private non-sectarian boarding school for children of India’s poorest of the poor. To take them out of their degraded environments and provide them access to quality education. To help them make something of their lives, and prove that, given access to the same technologies and education that have enabled other Indians to thrive in a globalised world, these children too can become leaders in their chosen fields.
Shanti Bhavan currently houses 160 students (all ‘untouchables’) -- children of poor farmers, daily-wage labourers, coolies, rag-pickers, quarry workers. “They come from homes below the poverty line, and from the lowest caste of untouchables, who are supposed to be fulfilling their destiny and left where they are -- according to the unwritten laws of Indian society,” says Lalita Law, the school’s principal. “We get these children at age 4. They don’t know what it is to have a drink of clean water (or use a toilet). They bathe in filthy gutter water -- if they are lucky to have a gutter near where they live. They don’t even have proper scraps of clothing.”
Shanti Bhavan is a project of the George Foundation, Abraham George’s not-for-profit organisation, set up in 1995 in Bangalore, India. The Foundation aims to alleviate poverty, promote environmental health and strengthen democratic institutions and values in developing countries. It believes that poor people are able to break the cycle of poverty and social deprivation only through institutions like Shanti Bhavan. The Foundation believes that the impact of major successes through training at Shanti Bhavan is permanent for the children and their families.
When Shanti Bhavan opened its doors in August 1997 it was with one clear objective: to shape the future of a select number of very poor children in India, integrate them in the mainstream and turn them into productive members of society. The belief is that the unhappy consequences of extreme want can be overcome if problems are tackled during the early stages of a child's development. Poor children are no different from their more fortunate counterparts if they are given a chance to dream and to aspire, and are supported through education and constant encouragement to realise their full potential.
At Shanti Bhavan, the children follow a comprehensive programme that meets their individual emotional, social, health and educational needs. They build character and self-esteem and their abilities are strengthened through various skills. They are taught to succeed not just in their immediate community but in the global marketplace. Their parents too are trained to play a positive role in the growth and development of their sons and daughters.
Shanti Bhavan takes in students at age four. These children have never had any kind of exposure to pre-nursery education. They have never held a pencil, nor have they been exposed to any form of educational stimuli. Therefore, the curriculum for the first three years has been designed to minimise stress. Teachers focus on developing close relationships with their students, to foster trust and confidence. Attention is paid to personal hygiene and social abilities. Most children are unfamiliar with a structured routine and the use of toilets, beds, tables, chairs and basic amenities that their counterparts from more privileged backgrounds take for granted. Adapting to a comfortable way of life is difficult. “We have to start by socialising them. When we first get them, they run out and urinate and defecate wherever they want. (At first) we don’t make them sleep on beds because it is a culture shock. Our goal is to give them a world-class education so they can aspire to careers and professions that would have been totally beyond their reach, and have been so for generations,” Law explains.
The students live on campus for a greater part of the year. Their parents visit them every three months, taking them home for short vacations twice a year.
Before admitting its students Shanti Bhavan researches the families of each child over a period of five months in order to ascertain his/her socio-economic profile. (The recruitment team consists of a social worker, a clinical psychologist, a paediatrician and the school principal.) This way, the overall needs of the community can be met in a more constructive way.
Contact:The George Foundation
210, 5th Cross
Tel: 080- 25444170/25444164