Deep in hinterland of Bihar, in Vaishali – one of India’s most backward districts, a couple has set up a School to give children there the best of education
Circa 1999: They were from two very different worlds. They met at the Jawaharlal Nehru University while pursuing Masters in History. The feeling was mutual. They wanted to give back to the society. They often had discussions under the open JNU skyline on making a real difference… Yearning to do something more impactful!
Around 2002, they went their own ways.
Krishna Kumar, a typical Bihari lad, alumnus of Deshbandhu College, after his Masters at JNU, with a couple of failed UPSC attempts, went on to have corporate stints with Citibank and HSBC Bank. With his entrepreneurial zeal, he set up a successful banking backend venture in Delhi in 2004 and ran it for 10 years. Kumar, gave it all up, only to return to his village – Vaishali – in 2014 to give shape to his dream: an English medium, activity-based school in his village which was launched in 2016.
While Sarika Malhotra, a Delhiite and a Jesus and Mary College graduate, stayed put at JNU to pursue M.Phil and Ph.D. While pursuing her Ph.D she landed the job of a trainee journalist with The Times of India in 2005. Her 13 years tryst with Journalism with the biggest media houses of the country, won her the IE Business School Award for Best Journalistic Work for Economic Journalism in Asia, the RedInk Award for Excellence in Indian Journalism, the Laadli Media and Advertising Award for Gender Sensitivity by Population First and UNFPA, among others.
A chance reporting assignment in Vaishali brought Malhotra and Kumar together again. The JNU feeling rekindled! And in Circa 2019: Malhotra and Kumar married to nurture what they now call a ‘childhood dream’!
It was path breaking, as Vaishali is one of the country’s most backward district. Kumar explains, though historically, Vaishali enjoys a special place in the Buddhist and Jain tourism circuit and is also the birth place of Republic, it has remained backward. The standard of education is very poor and the area lacks good schools for the overall development of children. Due to this shortfall, most parents who can afford, send their children to Patna, Ranchi or Delhi for their schooling.
“The remaining ones stay in Vaishali, without good schooling and learning opportunities. It is these children that our school is catering to by charging basic minimal fees from the villagers. From Karate, Athletics, Classical Music, Information Technology, we ensure that these village children get all the opportunities for their comprehensive development.” And the children are just loving this opportunity: within a span of four years many have won medals in Karate in both national and international events.
Being self-funded thus far, and given the humble paying capacity of the parents, it’s been a struggle to keep up with their mission to provide quality education, infrastructure and skilling to these village children.
The Pandemic hasn’t helped. With rural economy shrinking, parents not having the means to pay, and children dropping out of the school, it’s been a tough one year. From salaries, to daily overheads, Malhotra and Kumar have struggled every bit to stay afloat.
From reinventing the teaching style to using their professional contacts to bringing in experts and special speakers deliver special sessions for the children, the couple are putting in all that they have into providing the best to their children. And these sessions have turned out to be a real boon for the children taking online classes during the pandemic. Ranging from child sexual abuse, confidence building, spoken English, diction, grammar to storytelling sessions, those yearning to make a difference, pitched in.
Former journalist and Malhotra’s ex colleague Harsha Chawla who conducted storytelling sessions for the kindergarten and Standard 1 to 5 for two months says, “When Sarika told me about the opportunity to do storytelling sessions for the village children, I got very excited. It was during my interactions with Sarika and the children, I realised how these village children don’t get the opportunity for such sessions which are so readily available for city children.” Chawla shares, how it was a beautiful experience telling stories to the children. “Their rapt attention in listening to stories made me realise how every child has an innate desire to hear stories along with pictures and visuals.”
During the Pandemic year, the School graduated to a CBSE affiliated Senior Secondary School and is true to its motto, ‘Knowledge, Wisdom, Compassion: A Way of Life’, imparting holistic education for the overall development of children with a right mix of academic, extracurricular activities and sports keyed in the curriculum.
Malhotra says as a journalist, she had covered the ups and downs of businesses and economies, interacted with people at the bottom of the pyramid as well as in the top echelons of India’s corporate world, with some of the world’s most influential business leaders and policy makers. “This experience helped me think critically about the socio-economic issues affecting a developing nation. I realised, that education is the best means to bring about concrete and sustainable changes at the bottom of the pyramid. It is this gap, that I, in my own small way, am trying to bridge through my association with Buddha World School,” she avers.
Given the heritage of Vaishali, the school is integrating with the culture of the region so that the campus gels with its surroundings, and at the same time stands out. A consistent effort is made to integrate the students and teachers with the surroundings, to make them aware of the heritage of Vaishali and work towards community development through ‘One Good Act A Day’.
The team is working tirelessly to graduate the campus into a unique Skill University. “A campus that would develop the life and work skills of children, provide training and infrastructure, thereby enabling them not only to take up the best jobs but also become job creators” says Kumar.
With an ultimate goal to provide hand holding to the children till they become not just successful professionals but also good human beings, the duo have their hands more than full in nurturing their dream!