A dream school for poor children From a humble beginning the Rotary Public School, Gurgaon, has blossomed into a quality school educating 2,400 children, 30 per cent totally free.

PDG Sushil Khurana and Rtn O P Pahwa along with the staff and children of the school.
PDG Sushil Khurana and Rtn O P Pahwa along with the staff and children of the school.

Imagine the kind of courage and faith this bunch of men would have had to mortgage their personal properties to raise a bank loan to build a school with the primary objective to give quality education free of cost to underprivileged children. And that too without telling their wives. “If our wives had realised that we had signed away our properties, ghar se bahar nikal detey,” chuckles D 3010 PDG Sushil Khurana, Chairman of the Project Committee of the Rotary Service Trust (RST) that was formed to run the Rotary Public School Gurgaon, which is the result of this daring act!

Started in 1981, as a tiny school in Gurgaon with the objective of giving quality education free of cost to poor children, as Gurgaon expanded, this school grew too. Notably, this was the first senior secondary English school affiliated to the CBSE in the area.

 If somebody is really brilliant we ensure they don’t miss out on opportunities for lack of funds. We help them fulfil their dreams.

On its beginning, Khurana, a general surgeon, says, “As Rotarians, we were doing various service projects and the district authorities asked us why don’t you come into education and said they’d give us the place. We agreed willingly and were given four rooms.” Beginning with education only till Class 5, the school has grown over the years. In 2000 it operated out of one acre of land. But as the demand grew, Khurana and his team from RC Gurgaon took a leap of faith and bought 5 acres of land in Sector 17.

The crucial reason for its success is that at an early stage they designed on a self-sustaining module. “When we started, we were banking on a 3H grant, but as a district could get only one grant, we didn’t get it. But we didn’t allow that to stop us.”

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On why the RST didn’t opt for a bank loan, Khurana says, “Banks don’t lend money to Trusts because they can’t attach their property, so we decided to pledge our own properties, and got a loan of Rs 3 crore in 1997!” The land was bought for Rs 70 lakh; today it is worth, hold your breath, more than Rs 100 crore. And they were able to release their properties in three years!

But what you can’t put a price on, or is priceless, is that of the 2,400 students, 30 per cent are from disadvantaged families and get free education and transport.

If our wives had realised that we had signed away our properties, ghar se bahar nikal detey.

Explaining the self-sustaining model, O P Pahwa, Assistant Governor D 3010 and RST Trustee, says, “We take normal fees from 70 per cent of the students, just like any other public school. The best part is that none of the children or the teachers know who is a paying student and who gets free education. All children travel in the same bus.” As only the senior management knows who pays and who doesn’t, there is no discrimination. “Many of our Trustees’ children and drivers’ children have studied together, without knowing who pay and who doesn’t,” says Khurana.

For 15 years this model has worked. The school shifted to the new campus in 2000. Carlo Ravizza, as the then RI President-elect, laid the foundation stone and “we told him that it will be ready in a year and if you are in this part of the continent please ­inaugurate it.” He did, while in Bangladesh to attend the Institute and said that he was an architect but had never seen such a huge project completed in a year.

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Cheerful ambience

The school exudes a cheerful ambience; the bright green and yellow walls, the spacious play area for the younger children with sand pits and swings and slides, the plush auditorium with 170 push-back seats, music lessons being imparted in one class, PT lessons in another … everything points to a first class school offering holistic education. I see for myself what Khurana said about the focus also being “on moral education as we are a Rotary school.” At a turning we come across a little boy walking slowly with the aid of a walker. From nowhere a few other kids surface and they lend him a helping hand. There is no teacher around, and the children concentrating in taking their fellow student to his destination make such a heart-warming picture!

But the pressure on admissions grows every year. With excellent results, the demand from the less privileged has increased, and “we find it very difficult to turn intelligent children away.” So the Trust has bought another plot costing Rs 9 crore and another wing will be added soon. “With this additional facility, we’ll be able to take another 1,000 students — which means 300–350 children will get free education,” he smiles.

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Strong mentor system

The school gets excellent results. Meera Sannoo, Vice Principal, says in 2013–14, the result was 98 per cent. When you wonder about the obvious disadvantage the poorer children might be facing in terms of extra tuition and help with homework, Khurana points out that these children also do well thanks to the very strong mentor system in place. “Rotarians and their families have to invest their time. If I recommend my driver’s son for admission, then my wife, mother, sister or somebody from my family has to take responsibility of being a mentor so the module succeeds.”

Some of the poor children, points out Meera, are brilliant while most are average. “The commitment from our staff to these students is that whenever we find a student not doing well, they take extra classes.” The gender ratio is 100 boys to 80 girls. The endearing character Millimetre, in the Bollywood blockbuster 3 Idiots, hails from a disadvantaged family and studied here. His father is a waiter, and now his brother is also studying here. Any child coming from a family with a monthly income less than Rs 10,000 is eligible for free education, says Pahwa.

A bit of the stick is also used to ensure that the free students keep up their grades. If the non-paying students consistently get less than 50 per cent, they are warned that they will be asked to leave. “This is just a deterrent and to keep the pressure on the mentors not to dump their wards but work hard along with them to ensure they perform well academically. We don’t enforce it,” explains Khurana.

Many of these students go on to higher education and even though there is no commitment that the Trust will continue to support them or pay their college fee, “many students are adopted by Rotarians who fund their higher education. My wife has adopted two students and wants them to become chartered accountants,” he says.

Adds Meera, “She calls me regularly and inquires about their progress.” The brighter kids invariably get help, often from the District Education Foundation headed by TRF Trustee Sushil Gupta. “We refer them there and keep guiding them on resources for higher education. If somebody is really brilliant we ensure they don’t miss out on opportunities for lack of funds. We help them fulfil their dreams,” adds Khurana.

While the brighter students go on to the best of institutions for higher education such as IIT Delhi, IIM ­Lucknow, the Trust has now asked Literacy India, an NGO that educates 600 girls, to send 10 of their best girls to this school. Senior Rotary leaders like PRIPs Rajendra K Saboo and Kalyan Banerjee have visited the school. Books and uniforms for the poor students are given by the Rotarians as also transport. “We send mini vans for students who live far away. When PRIP Saboo came he said: ‘Give me this promise that if you help them, you’ll help them thoroughly.”

The most unique aspect of this project, he points out is that a project of this size is a single Club project; “probably the largest in the world done by one club, without taking any Grant money from RI, except very small matching grants for lab equipment and two vehicles.”

Thanks to RC Gurgaon’s Rotarians, Sapna Rajak, the daughter of a clerk in a private company, and an 11th Class Commerce student, wants to become a financial analyst. And “when I start earning, I will buy my mother every possible thing she wants.” Ashish, the son of a carpenter who works for the school, is headed to the NDA. “I want to serve the country and also make my parents happy and comfortable,” he says.

Pictures by Rasheeda Bhagat

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