On Friday, a few of us took the day off from school to go with 6th graders from Vidyashilp to a government/trust school as part of Vidyashilp’s community outreach program called Shilp Sparsh, and headed by Kalpna ma’am. About 60 students, in groups of 5, had prepared projects and materials to share with the students at the school, Sai Shankar Vidyashala, or simply People’s Trust. On the bus ride there the students, in high spirits, sang bits of familiar songs by Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, and Katy Perry. When we arrived, each group paired up with 5 students from Sai and began their demonstrations and activities. In each group, at least one Vidyashilp student spoke both English and Kannada, the native tongue of Karnataka, and would translate for the Sai students, few of whom spoke any English at all.
While the students completed their projects and socialized, the head managing trustee of Sai, Harish, gave us a tour of the campus. Harish’s father founded Sai as a trustee funded school in 1982; now 50% is funded by the government. The campus is decorated with a wide variety of trees from Butterfruit (avocado) to Sandalwood. Harish and Kalpna educated us on the many uses of these plants and trees as we walked.
“We want the students to see what can be done with the raw materials and tools provided directly by nature, without much human intervention”, he said, telling us of the Ayervedic uses of Neem which range from mosquito repellent to cosmetics and contraceptives.
“Many of these students come from very primitive areas. They need a curriculum focusing on life skills and behavior. This is not a ‘2+2=4’ school. We want to show them ways to directly improve their livelihood at home.”
Some of the students at Sai are residents, supported by People’s Trust. They have no home other than Sai which provides them with all their necessities up through graduation. At the edge of the campus is a beautiful Hindu temple which the students and faculty use for meditation.
Although the classrooms are primitive and resources few, what Harish and the faculty at Sai are doing is some of the most uplifting work I’ve seen in my life. I wish I could have spent more time with Harish. He is a truly inspiring person and beamed with excitement at the opportunity to show us around. I hope to visit a few other community projects like this before leaving India and learn and share ideas among them.