Lighting up lives through education: Two women show the way in Kundapur
By Anil D'Souza
Kundapur, Jun 20: In a remote place, some 30 kms away from Kundapur, tucked amidst green dense forest, lays a school run by two young and pretty ladies Renita Reshma Lobo and Shamitha. The school is named after Mother Theresa and caters to the poorest of the poor. Having spent some time in Kolkata, I somehow felt an instant connection to the school at Shankarnarayana. Gradually, the interest seemed to grow and today I would like Daijiworld readers to know about Renita, Shamitha and their mission in life.
Education shapes people’s lives. It moulds them into better human beings. The current economic turmoil across the world may not guarantee every learned person a great job, but education will surely help them think about constructive alternatives, instead of driving them into crime. Many people have questioned the importance of education citing examples of drop outs from college who have become multi millionaires. Well all I can say is, I can give ten thousands of examples of educated people who are well behaved multi billionaires. There are many who believe education spoils people, by driving them away to the cities. Agriculturists do not want their children to become agriculturists. Why? Is it because of education or is it because of the lack of it? I would say it is because of the latter. Education can make agriculturists realise the potential of their work; give them more insight into the market conditions, prices, demand and supply, corruption etc.
India has the highest illiterate population in the world and second largest population in the world. The reason for such population explosion can be closely linked to lack of education. Only 1/3rd of the children who are enrolled in grade 1 reach grade 8. That means close to 30 million children do not go to school and either end up as child laborers or as criminals. An astounding 53% of girls between age 5 and 9 are illiterate and to make matters worse, on an average there are only 3 teachers per primary school in our country. This is where Renita and Shamitha have attempted to make a difference and have made it.
Renita and Shamitha run a trust named Mother Theresa Memorial Education Trust and a school in the same name. The school began in 1998 and today houses classes up to PUC. After having thought of sponsoring for one child’s education, I thought to myself whether I am doing enough. It was obvious that I was not. Well here I am writing something with a motive in my mind. The motive is simple- I want you all to know the plight of India’s rural population and also the story of these two brave hearts. Even if this article kindles some kind of fire in one of the readers who would go on to show kindness in terms of funds, encouragement or even by propagation, I would consider my stint as a journalist a success.
Below are the excerpts of the interview I had with Renita and Shamitha.
First of all, I would like to congratulate both of you on your achievements so far and wish you both go on and start many more projects.
Well, I was very much intrigued and curious when my friend told me about you. In spite of living in Kundapur all my life, I had never heard about this school. How did it begin?
After our graduation we were sent by some person to serve in a village named Siddapur in Kundapur Taluk where a private school was just started. That was for the first time we were exposed to rural style of living. Rural school, rural people, poor people, and poor education. Born and brought up in Mangalore city it was very hard for us to accept the rural life where little ones were so much deprived of basic quality education. We served in that school for 2 years. We were still not satisfied being just teachers. We were urged to do more than this for the poor for the rural for whom obtaining quality education was just like building castles in the air. We wanted to educate the children of the uneducated parents unlike other schools who wanted to teach only the educated parents’ children.
How old were you then?
Well, it is a good way of asking our age (Laughs). We were 20 then.
You just said “educate the children of the uneducated”. How difficult it is to do so and how important it is to do so?
It is actually very difficult. The apprehension the parents, especially the uneducated parents have is how they are going to help their children in their homework or any academic related work. Well, we help these kids do their academic related work after school and we make them practice with our teachers helping them learn to do their work independently. It is really tough to convince parents who would rather have their children work as a laborer and lessen the financial burden. What they don’t realise is quality education can shape not only the child’s life, but also help them rise above poverty. Apart from this, the school fee is also an issue, which we take care to an extent from the trust.
Well most of the parents whom we meet are very co operative, as they want their children to do well in life and not to suffer like them. We organize counseling for parents where they are made aware of the importance of education.
I just read somewhere that everything in life is cause and effect. I am sure there is some reason or a cause which triggered you both to start something like this when you were so young.
Yeah true. After working there for 2 years our parents wanted us to come back to Mangalore. One evening when we were packing up all our belongings, some parents came to us with gratitude who didn’t want us to go from the village. Then suddenly it happened in the middle of the small talk, Dr. Chandramouli, in whose house we were staying as tenants said by chance “children these villages are really in need of you. Why can’t you girls do something innovative and something good for these rural people? Why can’t you open your own school so that we will have a quality school for our children”. We both looked at each other’s face. That night we knelt and prayed to Almighty. Then the word of the Lord came to us that “Do not fear for I am with you….victorious right hand”( Isaiah 41.10)That night very seriously & firmly we decided to start our own school which could be afforded by any poor to the poorest.
Of all the places, why did you choose Shankarnarayana?
Shankarnarayana is a forest area which is economically very backward but the people are dependent on this village for police station, telephone exchange office, treasury office and also ranger office. This is a Hindu pilgrimage centre but not very renowned. People keep migrating from here to other cities or nearby villages to establish themselves. We were looking for a place which is very small and backward. We were ignorant about this village until we stepped down to this forest area. We discovered that this is one of the most remote areas in the vicinity. There was a call from within to start here the school as this was a very small village with low population not more than ten thousand people. Nevertheless, this was the village which was the centre in East Kundapur which served as a connecting village to many other surrounding remote villages. Till the establishment of our school, People were dependent upon local schools run by the government which were ill equipped always.
How were the initial reactions of the villagers?
In the beginning there was a prejudice among the villagers which was 100% a Hindu society, that the students would be attracted towards Christianity as the school was in the name of Mother Teresa. Having studied in convent school, we implemented all the rules and regulations of convent school which made them feel that we are imposing Christianity on them. Some used to take us for granted thinking that we were too young to run the school for long. We were getting mocked as if it was an act of temporary enthusiasm. Better be late than never; gradually they understood that we are motivated only to teach their children, to educate them in a qualitative way. The rural undisciplined children were completely transformed by us. They started following us so promptly that there was an intense bondage between us and our students which is the main reason which kept us continuing our long journey which began with a small step.
Wasn’t it difficult for two young girls to start a school? How did you fund the project?
As we started everything from a scratch, we did not require a big fund to begin with. We were very young (22 yrs old) to make a great plan with a big budget. We knew only thing that we wanted to teach the small children in the best way possible. Small beginning has a great ending! We just hired an open stage from village Panchayat for a very small rent. In the hall we accommodated 2 classes (LKG & UKG) for 12 students. For the other expenses we used our little savings of 2 years. We purchased few old but good furniture at a lesser rate. After 2 years we hired little bigger building with 6 rooms. Fund was never a constraint for us to begin. But for sure, the smooth continuity required a lot of funds. In the later stages thanks to the Bishop of Mangalore, Dr Aloysious Paul D’souza and General SRA, Sr Maria Goretti’s recommendation we were sanctioned some funds for the construction in some phases. For the remaining requirements we took a huge loan from Canara bank, Mangalore which is still a liability.
Don’t you get Government aid?
No. As our school is purely unaided we do not get any aid from the government.
How many students do you have in your school and how is the fee structure?
Are the villagers able to afford the fees?
To be frank, the poorest in the community is a coolie worker who earns minimum of Rs 300 per day. It means around Rs 7,500 per month. Our School fee is affordable by all sections of the society. They are also privileged of Installment system. Some of the students are given concession and scholarships. Nearly 100 students are benefited with 50% fees exemption.
How are the school results?
The results of our school are good. We have been able to attain an overall result of 100 % in 2012 and 97% in 2013 in PUC with 99% in Computer Science, 100% in Electronics & 100% in Physics. One of our class X student got 98.33% standing 9th in the state, and out of 51 students 25 have got distinction and 24 First class. Class X is securing 100% ever year. Even in CET Engineering, our best rank is 569 this year. In the past 2 years our science students have entered top five Engineering colleges like BMS, M,S Ramahaih, PESET and VTU in Bangalore.
Apart from studies are there any extracurricular activities for the students?
Yes, other than studies we provide talent training classes like karate training (martial arts), art training (kalakshetra), Bharathanatyam (Nrithyalaya) and singing (pancham). Through this we aim to develop the overall personality of the student.
Students are also enrolled in different club activities like, Ayurdhama (growing medicinal plants) Eco club, Science club et al. Besides this we celebrate Diwali, Christmas, Eid so as to build respect in the little minds towards all religions. World peace day, Anti Drug Day, Senior citizens’ day World Environment Day are celebrated every year. Science Champ, Math Champ, Chess Champ, Spell Champ, Business Champ are conducted in High school and PUC level. Cultural competitions are the main part of School programs. Scouts and guides, gift exchanging programs, patroness day celebrations etc are a few occasions through which we encourage our students to channelize their energy to creativity.
That’s wonderful. Now if I need to help in some way. How can I?
Well anything. Monetary aid is always of great help to educate these children. With money, we can always alleviate the burden of fees off from a poor farmer or a poor carpenter. Donations in kind such as books to the library, furniture, and computers are also helpful. To be frank, there is a shortage of computers in our lab at the moment. You can actually sponsor a kid’s education for a year or till his/her graduation according to the list given above. Whatever the donors provide would lessen the burden of a poor family and also from us. I would encourage more and more people to come forward and donate in cash and kind to support our noble project.
Many of us want to know about the kid who is being sponsored- his/her growth, abilities, yearly progress etc. Any provision you have for this?
Yes, of course. We keep a record of the sponsored kid’s progress report.
Tell me something about the Mother Theresa Trust you run?
Thanks to some of the generous personalities and philanthropists of Mangalore town some fund is raised annually or monthly to benefit the poor .338 families with monthly grocery under Family Sponsorship program. They are sometimes benefited with medical aid, clothing and other assistance et al. During Christmas they are involved in the joy of Christ’s birth by Christmas gift in the manner of cake and meat. Pension plan, tapping of Government resources are the other commendable activities of the trust.
Well, you should try Kundapur and Udupi too; People are generous here. Trust me. Anyways, who runs the trust, and what is the major aim of this trust?
We run the trust and the main operation of the trust is to run the school. This trust was started in 2000 and is registered under the Government of India. The registration number is 86/2000/2001.
Will the trust help ambitious kids go beyond 12th and help them in professional studies?
Yes! The deserving poor students who had registered themselves in the Trust are supported for higher education to some extent thanks to some sponsors. We are not able to provide them with a full financial support as we already have liabilities. But we give generous scholarships for bright students. The trust helps them buy books and whatever small help possible within its limits.
What is your goal now that you have the school running?
Our main goal is to bridge up the gap between the rural & the urban education. We want these rural students stop getting attracted to cities to access basic education; which would be affordable only by the richer Sections of the community. The migration of families to cities is one of the major problems of our country. Our goal is to provide these rural kids the best quality education amidst the greenery instead of imposing their life to the din & bustle of city life. Primary school was their primary need.
The higher primary & High school was needed to make the school complete. PU education was the need expressed by the students & the rural people as it is benefiting almost 30 surrounding villages avoiding the student’s travel 50kms daily to the nearby Taluk quarters. As our educating journey going on we feel still we need to start many more projects. Completing with PUC may be an achievement. We will accomplish something only when we are able to give free education to the poor meritorious students and also introduce some vocational job oriented courses to the rural youth, which is the need of the hour. Thanks to our school the families with their little ones and most of the teenagers have stopped migrating to cities just for education.
What are your future projects?
Well. Current plans are to repay the loan which we had taken to raise the infrastructure. Apart from these we have shortage of land for playgrounds. As we said earlier, India now needs to move differently. Children should be made aware of other streams of academics – not merely engineering and medicine. On researching the market we feel vocational courses, are a need, especially to the rural population.
If I may ask you a personal question – You both are young girls who have dedicated your lives for the upliftment of the poor in this part of the world. Don’t you have any personal aspirations? We all do. We think of ourselves first and then if time permits, we think of others. What is that one thing which drives you through the ups and downs?
This institution itself is our personal aspiration. What drives us through the ups and downs is the memory of the pain and struggle we had taken in the past while building this school and our vision and dream for the future. Our stepping stone of past 15 years is the force which keeps us inspired to work more & more. And the day the state board exams results get announced we feel the fulfillment of our whole years’ sacrifice and again we plan new things for the new coming year. Dedication, determination & devotion towards one’s work will help one to persevere till the goal is reached. Well we both believe as the Lord Bishop recites to us every time, “ If it is God’s work ; then it will continue!” This strong belief sustains our faith in every step of our journey
Well, Ladies. I don’t know what to say. Hats off to what you have done. When people really go behind a career and money, you have shown us that where there is a will, there is a way. India needs more people like you and hope more and more people can join you or at least contribute in some way. You have any message to youngsters?
Take every step in life by your inner voice; your God is within you!
Well after this interview, I was reading an old SMS sent by a friend. It goes like this. It seems once a small child was picking up star fishes swept onto the shore by the tide and throwing them back to the sea. A passerby who was watching this for almost 15 to 20 minutes came up to the child and asked “What do you think you are doing?” The kid earnestly replied “I am saving this star fish from death by throwing it back to the sea”. The passerby laughed and said “Kid, There is a vast beach in front of you. What you are doing will not make any difference”. “Well”, replied the kid holding another star fish, in its tiny hands “It makes a difference to this” and tossed the fish into the sea.
Well, education is a need of the hour in India. A new society which is clean from corruption and heinous crime would be possible only when quality education reaches everybody. It is time to make a difference.
Details of the trust:
Name: Mother Teresa Memorial Education Trust
Type of organization: Educational and Social
Address: Alape, Post Padil, Mangalore 575007 Karnataka, India
This Trust is registered as no. 86 at the year 2000-2001 at pages21-32 volume 124 of book IV at the Sub-Registrar office, Mangalore city.
All the Donations to the Trust is exempt u/s 80G of the Income Tax Act.