Reaching Out & Catching Them Young

This article is a part of the series on a free school run by the Art of Living volunteers in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.

The stout, medium stature lady, exuding an arresting personality, makes her way purposefully towards the sprawling campus of the Sri Sri Seva Mandir, nestling against the backdrop of three picturesque hills. Determination is written strongly on her face, yet the lines are soft, covered with boundless compassion and love, her short stocky arms indicating that they are ever ready to serve at the slightest opportunity.

Meet Madam Maa of Guntur, the lady who has transformed the lives of rural children in this Naxal prone area of Andhra Pradesh. The same lady who had persuaded Naxals in many States across the country to drop the gun and learn the art of love and sharing. Indeed, Madam Maa has been instrumental in spreading the message of the Art of Living in the most impregnable regions, amidst those who were considered beyond help and reformation.

Using the same hands that once toted the guns, the same minds that plotted massacres ruthlessly, Madam Maa developed five villages, where she built bio-gas plants, health centres, good roads, rain harvesting besides teaching the residents the technique of relieving stress and living healthy.

The Sri Sri Seva Mandir was a natural consequence of these. After all, who wants their children to be budding Naxals? Especially if they have been there, done that and come back to realise the true meaning and beauty of life.

Thus was born the school amidst this picturesque backdrop, in the year 2002, in Palanadu, a remote village in the district of Guntur. Starting was certainly not easy. As, besides strong helping hands and willing minds, there is also an element called funding required for the physical structure.

Yet, the strong willed lady she is, Madam Maa circumvented all hurdles and soon was born a humble structure large enough to impart the most precious knowledge to the young minds, steering them from the path of violence to a path of love.

Over the last decade, the school has indeed come a long way. With what started as word of mouth to enrol students, the current strength stands at over 250, with children hailing from a varied background, ranging from those who were rescued from child marriages to those who cannot afford education to ones who are making family history by being the first to step into the revered hall of an education arena.

The school has classes till grade eight, with a hostel facility for over 60 students who incidentally were orphans abandoned or handed over by the police. Interestingly, some of the classes are held in the open under the Banyan tree and Berry tree in the campus, enabling the students to study amidst nature.

Given that the students are also initiated into yoga and meditation along with academic renditions, a perfect blend of modern education with ancient tradition, the school not surprisingly has been voted as the best school in the district of Guntur as well as the State.

Commendations have poured in aplenty from the District Collector, the local MLA, IAS officers and administrative bodies who now find the future generation on track, easing their pressures of tracking and reforming prospective deviators. Interestingly, noticing the good work of the school, parents have resorted to shifting their wards from other schools to Sri Sri Seva Mandir.

“It is result of the holistic education that we impart, combining spirituality and age old learning techniques based on Gurukul system of education, with the most modern interactive methods. This makes the process of learning a joy as well as strengthens the young minds in both approach and manner of handling life”, says Madam Maa. Certainly a well-rounded education that she has every reason to be proud of. After all, she had built this brick by brick, on the strong foundation of the Art of Living. 

She is however quick to add that all this would not have been possible without the inspiration from her Master, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, who showed her the path to make the difference, transform lives, fearlessly, tirelessly, without losing her precious smile. And smile she certainly does, at every opportunity, not because she has plenty to smile about, but because it has become her second nature.

“When I came here, there was intense negativity, fear, rage, impressed upon these young minds, impeding the possibility of imbibing new and different way of thinking, understanding. The Sudarshan Kriya, meditation and the holistic education which made learning fun, helped erase many negative impressions, opening up their minds and spirits to a new meaningful life filled with joy and free of stress”, she adds.

Recognising her commendable work in these Naxal prone areas, Madam Maa was recently conferred the “Best Seva Award” from Nagarjuna University (NU) in the field of ‘rural service in education.’  

The school also lays prime importance on sports education and this is amply borne out by Mr. V. Kishor, Director of Sports, NU being the visiting faculty. Not a surprise at all that Madam Maa’s next dream for the school is a sports track besides a Vedic Wisdom Section. “We have sent 15 students to the University for a 20-day sports-training Program,” she beams. Her long term vision - to produce world-class athletes and sports persons from her school.

Writer : Monica Patel

If you like the story or wish to contribute to the Art of Living free education projects, please write to us at webteam.india@artofliving.org or drop your comments below.

Related stories about the school

Nurturing the Abandoned

The Little Angels

The Stories of Shravani, Tattvamasi and Jyoti

Free Education : A tour Through Guntur... Sri Sri Seva Mandir!