“Education is this civilization’s greatest leveler. It has the power to empower the weakest of the weak, bring peace to the world and alleviate poverty. It is often seen as the only lit path in the pursuit of happiness.” ~ Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
In August 1936, Mahatma Gandhi wrote in the newspaper Harijan "India lives in her villages, not in her cities". For countries such as India, it is critical that each child, particularly outside the cities, be educated in such a way such that they can effectively contribute to the nation and the world.
This holds true for India even today. The Care for Child or Gift a Smile program primarily aims to bring a modern and holistic education to children that are outside the reach of other government or private programs. Schools under the Gift a Smile program fall into three categories: rural, tribal and slum schools.
Rural schools are established in villages close to a major city. They typically have some kind of road access and electricity. Tribal schools are established in remote areas where neither roads nor electricity exist. In some cases these tribal schools are 30km away from main roads and the only access is through country roads. Slum schools are established in urban areas.
The rural and slum schools follow a more conventional education program, while in the tribal schools the emphasis is more on providing a basic education platform with development of entrepreneurial and vocational skills that these children can build upon if they choose to. The Gift a Smile program also runs Heritage schools with emphasis on preserving India's Vedic tradition.
Delivering education to remote areas
The term ‘tribals’ refers to a small minority group in India whose ethnic origins, culture and lifestyle differ from mainstream Indian society.
Today, these groups face a diversity of problems. Most are economically challenged and the culture of tribal groups preserved for thousands of years now faces the threat of extinction.
The influence of mainstream society has made it impossible for these groups to remain oblivious to the developments of modern civilization. At the same time, lack of education has prevented them from joining mainstream society. The new generation faces many challenges, and their frustration leads to crime and violence in tribal areas.
To counter this trend, schools were started in 1999 in the tribal areas of Jharkhand, West Bengal and Tripura (North East India). Today, there are 22 tribal schools and more are being established in remote areas where neither roads nor electricity exist.
- Help tribal groups to improve their standard of living
- Create awareness among tribes about the richness of their own culture
- Guide them to live amidst a quickly developing world
- Aid in preserving the rich biodiversity, which is present in tribal areas
Even as tribal areas suffer from isolation and destitution, urban slums face other challenges. Apart from the strains of poverty, children from slums are often caught in a web of crime and violence. To provide quality, value-based education to children in urban slums The Art of Living runs six slum schools in India, providing for about five hundred students.
School in Asia’s largest slum
Leaping over challenges like unemployment and abject poverty, malnutrition and disease, uneducated parents' indifferent to education, social challenges such as violence, alcoholism and drugs, The Art of Living started it’s first English language school in Asia’s largest slum, Dharavi. See also www.dharavischool.org
Supporting Rural Education
To encourage attendance at school, uniforms, books and bags are provided for the students, along with free education. Students are given nutritious mid-day meals and parents are counseled about the importance of education. School buses transport children to and fro, often from distant villages. All these incentives encourage children to attend school. The attendance rate is 98% and the dropout rate is zero.
Care for Health and Hygiene, Human Values & Self-Development
With regards to the economic status of children and the poor access to water and sanitation, special attention is given to health and hygiene issues. Teachers focus on the development of human values such as love, compassion, service and care for the environment, in addition to the regular teaching curriculum. Children are taught self-development skills, introduced to computers and encouraged to take part in extra-curricular activities.
The First Rural School
Ved Vignan Maha Vidhya Peeth (VVMVP) was the first rural school started by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. It was started with 30 children in 1981 near the international headquarters of The Art of Living in Bangalore.
Today the school has 2200 students from 51 surrounding villages achieving a 100% success rate in local exams. This one school has been the inspiration for founding 64 similar such free rural schools run across India.