The Rotary Club of Bangalore, RI District 3190, has built/renovated a whopping number of 106 Government primary schools in the Rotary year 2016–17. The 100th school was inaugurated at Lakenahalli in Karnataka on June 27 by PRID Shekhar Mehta, with PRID Panduranga Setty and PDG Ravi Vadlamani participating in the event. By June 30, the number of schools built by this club had gone up to 106!
Immediate past president of the club, which has 255 members and was started in 1934, Ranga Rao says that in its 83-year-history, the club has constructed 40 rural primary schools, established the Rotary Bangalore Vidyalaya, Rotary TTK Blood Bank, a dialysis centre, a hospital in Channasandra in Bengaluru, where free treatment is given, toilet blocks, given solar-based energy solutions to villages and many more socially relevant projects.
The 100-school challenge started when in the 100th year of The Rotary Foundation, the club wanted to engage its members in an impactful project in the field of education and literacy, as education is a fundamental human right, along with food, shelter and water. “A major reason for such high levels of illiteracy in India is the low priority given to both adult literacy and primary education and lack or inadequate infrastructure for schoolchildren,” he says.
PDG Ravi Vadlamani said we should build 100 schools during that Rotary year. The entire audience was spellbound and we accepted the challenge while still in a daze.
– RC Bangalore IPP Ranga Rao
With this background, the incoming 2016–17 board of the club was convinced that literacy was the way forward, and during the TRF Centennial it would do something unique under the TEACH programme. “At the installation meet on July 3, PDG Ravi Vadlamani encouraged us to ‘Dare to Dream’ and implored that we accept the challenge to build 100 schools during that Rotary year. The entire audience was spellbound and you can say we accepted the challenge while still in a daze,” says Rao.
Rao says he went home still dazed and recalls, “That night is tough for me to forget… was the challenge we had set ourselves realisable, or was it just a pipe dream, I kept asking myself. And finally, I carried that dream into my sleep. I credit PDG Ravi for making an appeal that went directly to our hearts. I found out later that many of our members did not sleep well that night, thinking all the time how to turn this dream into a reality,” he adds.
The challenges ahead were aplenty. The first one began with the thought process in his own head. “I was really wondering if we could do such a huge project.” One evening, seated with a drink in hand, he was sharing with a friend over the phone the idea of this mega project and the challenges in executing it. After a while, he found his wife Kanchana entering the room with a cheque for Rs 3 lakh in her hand. She quietly said: “This is for your school project. And I said I don’t even know whether we will be able to do it and she said I know you will do it. Take this money as the first contribution,” recalls Rao.
Interestingly, and significantly, his wife Kanchana is a trained Montessori teacher, and would surely understand the importance a happy learning place makes to the children in their studies.
While we have not approached anyone for funds for this project, recently when some club members went to the UK and US and spoke about this project, two or three districts there want to associate with this project.
– PRID Panduranga Setty
The Rotarian knew he had to build just not ordinary schools, but Happy Schools, with all the elements that go into the definition of one: Neatly and cheerfully painted and well-maintained school buildings made secure with boundary walls, adequate and functional separate toilets for boys and girls so that girls have the much-required privacy; handwashing stations, clean and adequate drinking water for both students and teachers; a well-equipped library, play material; games and sports equipment; benches and desks for students; well-maintained space for the teaching staff; and books, school bags and shoes for the students.
To his own surprise and amazement, the ground reality at the club level was enthusiasm and hectic activity for this project. Meetings followed in quick succession; garnering of logistics support, sourcing material at huge discounts, formation of five teams of contractors and putting together an Action Group of 12 members headed by PRID Panduranga Setty, with Rtn Arjun Menda, two past presidents and others, followed. “The rush of spontaneity that the club witnessed was something to be seen and savoured. Members felt the need to contribute and reach out, many who had tasted the success of the PolioPlus programme were convinced we could do it and others wanted to be a part of history in creating the ‘HAPPY 100’.”
This is a TEACH programme at its best; for a single club to do more than 100 Happy Schools in a year, and then continue it for the second year, is an example of what we can achieve if we put our heads together.
The next challenge was to identify the schools. Karnataka has 50,632 government primary schools; “we wanted to take up only government schools, because they badly need good facilities. But the question was which 100 schools and how to find them.” So, the team got in touch with the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan of the Karnataka government, and narrowed down the list to 584 schools. “But the problem was that they were located at a distance of 40–80 km from Bengaluru. Though extremely difficult, we visited each and every one of those schools and identified the 100 schools, where the project cost would not exceed Rs 3 to 4 lakh, the amount we had fixed for each school,” he adds.
But in hindsight this was the easier part; the next huge challenge was getting accommodation for the workers — maistries, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, etc — as “many of these schools were in far-flung villages where there are no facilities to stay. So the workers had to stay/sleep either in the verandahs or the classrooms and even face the danger of being bitten by snakes.” Some of the schools were in such a pathetic condition that “plants and weeds were growing out of windows, the walls were filled with fungus and there was either no water or it was highly contaminated. So first of all, we had to organise safe drinking water for the workers!”
The next challenge was to organise the transport of building material to these schools and carry out the construction while the classes were on. “We had the luxury of working only in a few schools where there were holidays; in most of the schools, the classes were on and we had to carry on the work without disturbing the children, and ensuring their safety as construction materials were moved around,” says Rao.
Here the Chairman of the Happy Schools Project Committee, Rtn Manjunath, played a big role. Being himself in the construction business, he managed the procurement of construction material at a discounted rate, found the workers, another challenge, and solved problems as and when they cropped up. “We got great cooperation from the education department of the State Government. It was estimated that on an average, each school would cost around Rs 350,000, with discounted material and services. The project was formally announced at a club meeting on September 19, 2016 and the first school that was taken up for conversion to the ‘Happy School’ category was at Haroketanahalli and was inaugurated in the presence of Vadlamani in November 2016, says Manjunath.
Coming to the Herculean task of raising funds — an estimated Rs 350 lakh was required — it took the project team 270 days to raise this amount required for the 100 schools and 210 days to convert the modest-to-crumbling buildings into ‘happy schools’ with all the facilities on the checklist.
A golf course held to raise funds got them a kitty of Rs 36 lakh, a Kala for Vidya show in which many prominent artists from Bengaluru such as Jatin Das, S G Vasudev and Gurudas Shenoy gave their works at half the cost, helped the team raise another Rs 9 lakh.
But it was mainly Rotarians, says PRID Panduranga Setty, a member of the club and Chairman of the Project Committee, who donated sums ranging from Rs 1 to 12 lakh for the project, “with some people giving even Rs 30 to 40 lakh”. His own educational trust Rashtreeya Shikshana Samiti Trust donated Rs 25 lakh for this project.
“What is unique about this project is that the year has ended but the project continues and this Rotary year too, our club has taken on the challenge of converting another 100 government primary schools into ‘happy schools’,” he adds.
Adds Rao, “We have planned to train 500 teachers from the 106 schools already completed, in partnership with the Azim Premji Foundation, and will continue other value-add activities in these schools.”
PRID Mehta, Chairman of the Rotary India Literacy Mission, who inaugurated the100th school, says, “This is a TEACH programme at its best; for a single club to do more than 100 Happy Schools in a year, and then continue it for the second year — the next two club presidents are also equally committed to this Happy Schools project — benefitting some 16,000 children in 300 villages is an example of what we can achieve if we put our heads together.”
Complimenting the members and presidents of the club, “PRID Pandu and all the donors, and of course the Chair of the Happy Schools National Committee Ravi Vadlamani, for mooting the idea and encouraging the club to carry out the project”, Mehta added: “This fills my heart with the greatest joy and optimism on what more Indian Rotarians can do towards making India literate and creating a happy environment for children to learn.”
PRID Setty added, “While we have not approached anyone for funds for this project, recently when some club members went to the UK and US and spoke about this project, two or three districts in the two countries want to associate with this project, though we have not sought financial support from anybody.”
Adds Rao, “We now want to convert all these 100 schools which teach in Kannada, Urdu, Tamil and Telugu languages, into model schools in three years. This gigantic task of planning, logistics, fund raising and execution that impacted 106 schools in 300 villages, benefitting 50,000 people, which involved 9,500 man-hours, has given us the confidence that we can continue this project to benefit the children of Karnataka.”