Consider this scenario; a Rotary club in Chennai — RC Madras Central — is sitting on a pot of money which is earmarked for converting sad, dilapidated government schools with abysmal facilities into happy schools complete with gender-segregated toilets, cheerful handwash stations, brightly painted schoolrooms, benches and tables and a compound wall. But then thanks to red tapism, the regulatory approvals required to start the work are caught up in some government file or the other.
But with to the enthusiasm of two proactive principals, the club has been able to give spanking new facilities to two government schools in Chennai — Ponneri and Ennore — and both the renovated schools were inaugurated by RID 3232 District Governor Babu Peram.
There were 90 students of Classes 3,4 and 5, all crammed in one room and all that the teachers wanted from Rotary were just two partitions so that their students would feel a sense of some progress when they passed from one class to another.
— K P Shrikumar, Chairman – Happy Schools
It all began six months ago when a team of Rotarians from the club discussed the pathetic facilities in many schools run by the Chennai Corporation, and thought their club should take up the task of renovating and turning them into happy schools.
A team from the club comprising Director – Special Project, Vinod Saraogi, who is also a past president; Director, Community Service – Development, M Srinivasan; and Chairman, Happy Schools, K P Shrikumar, decided to first survey government schools that required help. They found many schools with damaged classrooms, broken flooring, broken or no doors, damaged or no benches, missing or damaged blackboards, leaking roofs, the electrical wiring in a state of such a disarray that none of the electrical appliances such as the bulbs or fans worked.
This project was initiated by Vinod Saraogi. “As teaching is my passion even though I run an investment business, I also got involved along with Srinivasan, and our Club President R Saranyan extended total support to this project,” says Shrikumar. The first school on their radar was a government school in Medavakkam, which is bang within the city limits. “We saw that three classes were being run in one common room and the students of Classes 3, 4 and 5 were all studying from this single room. There were over 90 students crammed in that room and all that the teachers wanted from Rotary were just two partitions so that their students would feel a sense of some progress when they passed from one class to another.”
This really jolted the Rotarians who immediately agreed to do such partitioning after discussing the matter with their club members. Saraogi came forward to put the seed money for improving government schools and committed about ₹8 lakh; one of his non-Rotarian friends, Mohan Goenka, agreed to give ₹5.5 lakh; and a member of the club Bhoovaran Thirumalai announced ₹5 lakh. The partitioning required hardly any money, but the first stumbling block came in the form of getting the required approval from the government. As the file for this school is caught in some dusty government office, the Rotarians were able to identify two proactive Principals who managed to get them the required approvals.
Even though the school had a compound wall, miscreants had broken it and used the gap in the wall to enter the school in the night and use the classrooms for nefarious activities.
Luckily for these Rotarians, both the schools met their primary benchmark — that at least 50 per cent of the student strength of the school should be girls. The first two schools taken up for transformation were the Jaigopal Garodia Government. Girls Higher Secondary School, Ponneri and the Government Higher Secondary School, Kathivakkam, Ennore. The first, an all-girls school, has 1,631 girl students, and the second has 797 boys and 794 girls.
Both were in a pathetic condition. In the Ponneri school, only one functional toilet block was available to 1,631 girl students. Many students were not using toilets during school hours, harming their health. So the Rotarians first took up building of toilet blocks. While the first one was spruced up, another two toilet blocks in a complete state of dysfunction were renovated, and were made fully functional with new tiles, new doors, new plumbing lines and an assured supply of water. The school was till then depending on Corporation water tankers. The school had no compound wall and “since it was a girls school we gave priority to build a compound wall 200 metres in length and with two gates. The flooring was done and benches were provided; till then the students were sitting on a mud floor. The Principal, teachers and students were delighted with the transformation of their school into a Happy School,” adds Shrikumar.
In the Kathivakkam school the conditions were even more dismal. Even though the school had a compound wall, miscreants had broken it and used the gap in the wall to enter the school in the night and use the classrooms for nefarious activities. Dogs were also entering the school. “Imagine the students coming in every morning to find their classrooms full of filth and with broken liquor bottles on the floor. The students had to do the cleaning, and the weary Principal asked how many times he could ask them to do this work.”
Such facilities will put these government schools on par with private schools, improve the quality of their education and hopefully prevent school dropouts.
— R Saranyan, President, RC Madras Central
As most government schools, this one too has a spacious compound with 25 classrooms. All the classrooms have been renovated and refurbished with a fresh coat of paint, electrical lines have been restored so that the lights and fans work, grills provided on the window frames, the floors repaired, toilet blocks renovated and a proper water supply line put. “Till then, as only one toilet was functional here, it was being used by the girls and the boys were relieving themselves in the open. Now the school has three proper, functioning toilet blocks. The Principal, teachers and students could not believe the transformation and their smiles were our reward. The block has been christened RC Madras Central Block.”
At the inauguration of the two schools, corporate donors — Vinod Garg from Pulkit Metals, Mohan Goenka from Leather Crafts, Usha Saraogi from Go Colors and the Saraogi family were honoured. “We cannot forget the contribution at the Ponneri School of our member G S Anilkumar, who did the lights and fans in all the classrooms, Sudarshan Rungta who helped in constructing the handwash station, M Srinivasan who helped to construct two handwash stations in the Kathivakkam School and Shrikumar who chipped in to meet the funding requirement, said Club President Saranyan.
He added that with this pilot project in two schools a total number of 3,222 students have been impacted, who will now be able to study in a safe and congenial, and more important, healthy and hygienic environment.
DG Babu Peram asked the school Principals to maintain the facilities, to ensure long term benefit and President Saranyan assured the DG that RC Madras Central will keep in touch with the schools to ensure proper maintenance. There was also a plan by the women Rotarians in the club to visit the schools periodically and interact with the students on matters related to health and hygiene. The club also plans to install Interact clubs in both these schools.
The president added that in the next phase, the club plans to open a computer lab in both the schools with 25 computers in each lab; provide e-learning kits as well as career guidance and counselling; initiate sports activities; provide an adequately equipped library, and regular medical camps. “Such facilities will put these government schools on par with private schools, improve the quality of their education and hopefully prevent school dropouts,” he added.
Shrikumar said that the ultimate aim is to scale up the project and create 25 Happy Schools in two years. “We have found that raising money is not a problem as education is something that is close to everybody’s heart. A back of the envelope calculation puts the cost of renovating each school at around ₹13 lakh and we are now confident of doing 25 schools as we have acquired the knowhow, identified the right vendors and will appeal for funds to other Rotary clubs around the world and might even do a global
The Rotarians have identified the schools which need their help and are confident of raising the funds; “actually we have some money lying idle; our only condition is the schools must have at least 500 students, with more than half being girls, but we are awaiting government approvals.”
Meanwhile the first school in Medavakkam, which wanted just a simple partitioning of its classes, is still waiting for government approval.