Do you want to do social work because in your heart there is love and therefore you are not concerned with your own fulfillment? Or is social work a means of escape from yourself?
Born out of his deep compassion for the underprivileged, Krishnamurti invited his friend and socialist Achyut Patwardan to engage with the impoverished villages in and around Rajghat. When the erstwhile Agricultural College was derecognized by the Government of Uttar Pradesh, Achyutji decided to instead utilize the facility as a rural school. Thus was born Achyut Patwardan School (APS) which has been providing educational opportunities to needy community for over 60 years, one of the oldest such schools in the country.
The excerpts from the book “A Jewel on a Silver Platter” by Professor Padmanabhan Krishna about Achyutji dwells on the rich history:
“From childhood, Patwardhan was deeply influenced by theosophy, as members of his entire family were ardent followers of Dr. Annie Besant and J. Krishnamurti … He told me that Mrs. Besant had said to him ‘Never discard what Krishnamurti says, irrespective of how much you differ from him, for his is a consciousness that sees very far.’… In 1947 when Krishnamurti returned to India Patwardhan’s journey back to his mentor started with endless dialogues on the fundamental problems of life and death…He then exclusively devoted himself to working for Krishnamurti through a newly instituted foundation called the Foundation for New Education, based in Rajghat, Varanasi …. Patwardhan in his later years argued that socialism cannot be concerned merely with man’s economic needs but must create equality of spirit. He wrote over 100 books and pamphlets on socialism and philosophy. He died in Rajghat, Varanasi on August 5, 1992 during a visit to the place of his work.
While Uttar Pradesh is the most populated state in India, it also features among the 10 poorest states in the country. As per the UNDP human development and economic indicators (2009-2010), the poverty head count ratio of Uttar Pradesh (population below poverty line) stood at 37.7% as against the country’s average of 29.8%. As per the 2011 census, the female literacy rate was 57% as compared to the 77% male literacy figures. The reputation of the state is marred due to an increasing number of crimes against women.
Uttar Pradesh’s culturally flourishing hub is the city of Varanasi. It is known throughout India for its production of fine silk and Banarasi saris. Apart from this, carpets, dhurries, copperware, wooden and clay toys, handicrafts and gold jewellery also feature as prominent export products. However, lately, traditional occupations are facing extinction due to the threat from Chinese mill-woven fabrics, leaving the weavers and their families stranded without a secure livelihood. Fishing is another mainstay of the community dominated by male members. Here, the pollution of river Ganga and over exploitation has led to challenging conditions. While U.P. is a thriving farming state, the contigous villages either do not own lands or if they do, own less than 1 acre plots on which they practice subsistence farming. Alcoholism, poor health and caste system wreak havoc on an impoverished community.
Provision of education and health services can break the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty. APS caters to the primary and middle school educational needs of children in the surrounding villages.
APS currently has about 300 children from nursery class to class VIII. The gender mix is maintained close to 50%. The children mostly come from the surrounding villages of Sarai Mohana, Kotwa, Kapildhara and Rajapur. Demographically, it has been observed that girl children are dissuaded from going to school as they carry out domestic work and socially are treated inferior. We pay special attention to continued attendance of girl children due to this reason.
The school follows the UP Board curriculum and is expected to obtain the registration soon. On day to day running, the school attempts to impart education devoid of fear and competition where learning is a process of joint exploration by the teacher and the student. The team of 14 teachers have all spent over a decade with the institution with some from the main school campus while most being from the villages around. Over the years, the teachers have developed a keen understanding of the social issues in the villages and its causal linkage to school performance. Thus personal attention to the child is possible where in specific causes can be addressed and contact at the parent level established for resolution.
With a view to broaden perspective of the rural children the school invites resource persons from time to time from various fields and organizes workshops and special classes to teach them special skills.
So far the school has invited several resource persons from the field of different art forms such as dance, painting, theatre, and folksongs. The children are also introduced to new skills and areas of learning. The children were given guidance and taught painting, folk dances, folk music, spoken English.
There is strong emphasis on sports in the school with a dedicated Physical Education Teacher at hand all the time. We realize that sports can not only heal psychological wounds but also bring out the best in the children. The school has a large play ground which provides ready outlet for games. APS also conducts annual sports events, participates in the RBS sports day and also competes in local events.
In the arena of sports, we see an opportunity connect with the villages. Our Physical Education Teacher has worked after hours at the school to impart sports education to interested community members working along with an NGO. Some of these children compete with the RBS sports team at annual events. This provides the crucial link among RBS, APS and the village community through the medium of sports.
Art can be used for creative expression of the feelings of children. It can also be an effective learning tool. At APS, art finds a place in everyday teaching. Be it in the curriculum, local events, health campaigns or fun events, art is deployed in all cases. Environment, health and culture are dominant themes in the art domain at APS. The linkages among thesecome out well in the art work.
Thanks to a donor’s magnanimity, we now have a dedicated music room. The day starts always with music in the assembly hall that all the children attend. It denotes a good start for the day. The school also has a full time music teacher who has trained the students not only in music but also in drama and stage performance. Appearing before crowds has led to improved confidence in the children.
Growing own food for the children of villages is not just about learning but also thriving in a challenging economic environment. The children of the school grow season vegetables organically in a kitchen garden, the produce of which is used in the mid day meal program.
We have now initiated decisive steps to connect back with the APS alumni community. Considering that we have now educated thousands of students over decades, the community of well wishers can support the rural institutions in many ways.
In December 2016, we hosted a climate change event in which we invited few APS alumni to join. We carefully chose post graduates or high achievers who could propagate the steps to bring about climate resilience in the village. We are now networking further through the group to assemble a team of past students who could work as ambassadors of APS.
In March 2017, we invited over 60 girl alumni students of APS to have a dialogue on opportunities to engage in women empowerment initiative in the surrounding villages. Sampark, an NGO working in the field of women empowerment, hosted the discussion. This again provided us an opportunity to document the contacts mobile numbers and emails where available to be able to network and remain in contact.