Just 60 kilometres away from the bustling city of Bengaluru is the little known village of Bhaktharahalli which cuts a very different picture from its neighbouring metropolitan. Bad, broken down roads and limited transport facilities make even the most basic amenities inaccessible for the villagers.
Home to around 500 families, Bhaktharahalli has majority of its population engaged in farming and agricultural labour. Due to consistent low rainfall, the area is declared drought prone every year with the poor, landless farmers bearing the brunt of crop failure and incurring heavy losses.
For these families struggling to survive every day, sending their children to school had never been a priority. Steeped in poverty, the villagers had neither the awareness nor the time to understand the importance of education. Preparing children to become extra hands at work and add to the household income seemed a much better prospect to them for sustaining their hand-to-mouth existence.
“We were born here and grew up here. We have faced all the challenges first hand. Till 1986, there was only a single-teacher primary school in the village. Higher secondary education was a distant dream for us, which we pursued hard, walking more than 15 kilometres daily to reach the nearest school. For the girls, the situation was even worse. Parents would not let their daughters make the long journey alone. This became an excuse for confining them to household chores and marrying them off early”, shares L Kalappa, who initiated BMV Education Trust some three decades back with his friends, to make education accessible for children in the Bhaktharahalli village.
The idea was to start a school within the village, so that children could save the time and trouble of travelling far just to reach their school. L Kalappa and his friends worked hard relentlessly to get all the permissions and registrations, and then set about the task of finding the right space for the school, and starting the actual construction of the building. With limited resources, they had to face challenges every day, and many times they thought about closing down the project. But somehow one helping hand joined with another and they were able to establish a primary school in Bhaktharahalli.
One of the biggest challenges was inducting the first batch of students. The dedicated team of teachers from BMV went from door to door, talking to parents, convincing mothers to send their children to school. Many doors were shut in their face by parents who wanted their children to work and earn rather than learn. But they did not give up and with rigorous efforts were able to bring more and more children under the fold at education.
“It was the first small victory for us when after a few initial years parents started enrolling their children to the school without being prompted. It was all thanks to the efforts of the teachers, who were working day and night and giving their best to the children. Parents could see the difference education was making – the children behaved properly, dressed up neatly, talked confidently. What pained us was that despite the extra labour being done by the teachers, we could not pay them adequately. Due to lack of funds, there were times when we were not even able to pay their meagre salaries for months” L Kalappa says.
There were other hiccups – the upkeep of the school could not be maintained, no qualitative transformations were possible. With a fresh batch of children joining every year, and requests of admission coming in from neighbouring villages, the space as well as scope of the project was becoming limited. Just when the school had been accepted by the community, a crisis situation looked imminent, and L Kalappa and his friends started seeking help from all quarters to make it survive.
“We could not crush the hopes of the children, of the parents after first raising them. We were in the worst possible situation when Smile Foundation approached us. That was in 2008, and we have not looked back since. With the support of Smile, we were able to provide facilities like transport, computer labs, library, special coaching for senior students, nutritious meals, exposure visits, sports and other co-curricular activities to our students for the first time. Over the years, through continued handholding and training sessions they helped us not only remunerate our teachers well, but also facilitated their capacity building. Innovative teaching learning material, mathematics workshops, science exhibitions, brainstorming and ideological camps were introduced in the school to enhance the overall learning experience of the children”, shares L Kalappa.
BMV started as a primary school, but now has a High School and Nursery School too. Children from seven villages – Kakachokkondahalli, Basavapattana, Malamachanahalli, Belluty, Tadur and Thotluganhalli, besides Bhaktharahalli study at the school. The school has been consistently achieving 100% results in the SSLC examinations, and many BMV pass-outs are now studying to become doctors, engineers and officers. Every once in a while there is a gem like Kumari Monica who secured 96% in her SSLC (2015-16) examinations, and became the district topper.
L Kalappa sums it up, “We feel proud that we have been able to bring some change in our village, in the place of our birth. Our children do not have to face the same challenges that we had to. And the outlook of the people has drastically changed. But this is just the beginning. There is still so much more to do”.