Our Inspiration - Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
In the diverse array of service projects that the Art of Living has initiated, H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar has laid special emphasis on education. He says, "Education is not stuffing the minds of children with information but providing an atmosphere for holistic development." A research has shown that a baby smiles 400 times a day, a teenager 19 times and an adult hardly smiles. The joy that is present in everybody as a child disappears slowly with time in the process of growing up. The challenge of education is how to keep that joy alive, how to let intelligence flourish while preserving the innocence.
When H. H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was building his ashram outside Bangalore, he noticed the children in the surrounding villages did not have any school to go to in the vicinity. In economically weak sections of society, sending children to school instead of work is seen as loss of income. Illiteracy and lack of awareness prevents them from seeing the benefits of education. Sri Sri decided to do something to help them. A local volunteer was asked to look after the children and give them lessons in basic hygiene, teach them educational games and provide for lunch for them. This became a big attraction for the children and parents. Initially, the parents were skeptic as nobody in their family history had ever gone to any classes. After some persistence, some children began coming and later others followed as well. The school began with
Education has brought a huge change in the mindset of people in these villages. When the students graduate from the school, many of them leave with tears. A few years ago, the first lady conductor was appointed in the Bangalore Metro and she is an alumnus of our rural school. Similarly, education has opened up many avenues for these students who are all first-generation literates in their families.
This has become a model that has been replicated in many other places in the country. We now have 426 schools across 20 states all over India providing free education to 53,316 children. The attendance is 98% and the dropout rate is zero. The academic curriculum in the schools is based on the syllabus approved by the state's education board, as applicable. Apart from academics there are extra curricular activities and sports that for the all round growth of children. In fact, the school football team regularly keeps winning prizes at the district and state levels. Students are also taught yoga and pranayama as well. All our schools have registered 100% results in the class 10th exams. The student population maintains a very healthy gender ratio of 48 girls to 52 boys per hundred students.
Majority of these schools are in rural areas of the country. There are 22 tribal schools and six schools in slums in cities. Tribal areas are generally economically challenged and not integrated with mainstream society. They usually do not even have electricity or water connections. Our tribal schools are located in Jharkhand, West Bengal and Tripura. These are also zones of high militant and naxalite activity and so they present a different set of problems than other areas. Children are potential recruits for extremist groups who oppose any new exposure from the outside world to their area. In many cases, our volunteers were threatened with life when they started schools in these places. But when the militant outfits saw their genuineness and sincerity in helping the local people, they also joined in the efforts. They saw that there are more constructive ways to improve things in society than by violence. Some of our schools are, in fact, run by the very naxal militants who opposed them in the beginning.
In many cases, the impact of the school is not just limited to providing literacy to children but it has become the epicenter of a large-scale change in the whole area. For instance, Aurwantand, a remote tribal village in UP has completely transformed in just a few years because of the school. A decade ago, the only thing the children wanted to be was naxalites because that was the only vocation they were ever exposed to. The village was a picture of poverty and malnutrition with a heavy atmosphere of fear hanging over it. With the school coming up, there was laughter and discussions among the village folk in the evenings. Children would play with the CRPF personnel from the nearby base, who would come over for tea. The open library exposed people to new ideas. Recently, the first batch of children graduated from the school and many of them have enrolled for college - something that has never happened in this area. Suddenly, there was hope for a new life among people. Many villagers went out and looked for jobs and that has changed the economic condition of the area. Malnutrition has vanished from the place. In fact, the villagers love to feed guests now.
The Art of Living is causing a change at the very grass root level. The effort and dedication of the volunteers that goes behind establishing and running these schools is truly inspiring. They themselves share that their lives have been transformed and feel very grateful at being able to serve society.