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SCHOOL STARTED BY NRI FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED CHILDREN IN INDIA MAKES ACADEMIC RECORD

Dr.Abraham George

Shanti Bhavan School, founded by Dr. Abraham George has drawn attention of the excellent academic work being carried out in Tamil Nadu, India to assist children from Dalit or the underprivileged families. Shanti Bhavan has recently made academic history in India. In a significant development, an entire batch of students from Shanti Bhavan Residential School near Hosur that appeared for the 2008 examinations conducted by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examinations, New Delhi (ISCE) excelled by securing first classes, while seven of them went several steps ahead by notching up distinctions.

Shanti Bhavan, whose principal benefactor is Dr.George, is a home and an exceptional school for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children of India’s lowest caste, the so-called “untouchables” or dalits.

Just who are these children? How did they achieve this feat? The children come from families that have been denied basic human rights for centuries. They are victims of extreme social discrimination and are deprived of the opportunity to live with dignity and economic stability. Practically no children from these communities receive proper schooling to enable them to pursue higher education on merit.

The vicious cycle of poverty faced by the dalit community of over 300 million people can be remedied through quality education for their children from an early age through college. Shanti Bhavan, a nonsectarian institution, offers both a loving home and “world-class” education for all its children.

Mahatma Gandhi often summed up the plight of the families of these children as “the lowest and the least, the last and the lost.” The school, which finds a mention in Tom Friedman’s book ‘The World Is Flat’ is the result of one man’s relentless dream to give the poorest children from some 40 villages in Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka a chance to compete with the brightest and the best.

Dr. Abraham George, the Indian- American philanthropist who found likeminded committed individuals to work at Shanti Bhavan has since invested almost all his earnings worth several millions of US dollars, in keeping with his dream of building an excellent school that would give its students a chance to compete on merit with those of their more fortunate peers.

Dr. George says, “Shanti Bhavan’s mission is to fully develop the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children of India’s lowest caste - the untouchables or the “dalits”- to enable them to aspire to careers and professions of their choice – engineering, law, medicine, education, the arts - through world class education and globally shared values.” He went on to add, “We strongly believe that the children of Shanti Bhavan, once educated and successful, will help their families and friends break out of the vicious cycle of economic destitution and become successful and productive members of society. A multitude of such successes will create a better and brighter future for the poor. If 1 child is successful, he or she will carry a 1000 more forward.”

According to Veerappan, a proud father who works as a laborer, Shanti Bhavan has transformed his child’s life and that of his family. He says he now dreams of the day when his family can live a life with dignity and economic stability.

Yet another father who works as a mason observed, “We may build such campuses for the big companies but it’s heartening to now hope that our children can get a chance to work inside those buildings.”

The ISCE results have proved that children from even the most deprived backgrounds can excel academically with hard work provided they are offered the opportunity to have a quality education. George firmly believes that the Shanti Bhavan model is one of the best ways to break the vicious cycle of poverty. Unfortunately, the present economic crisis around the world has impacted his ability to support the institution and he is reaching out to others to join him in ensuring that the children’s dreams are not shattered.

“First deserve then desire,” if that is the order of the day then who are better than Shanti Bhavan’s promising students illuminating their lives from the abject darkness of poverty to bright prospects through a deserving charitable education.

Born in Kerala, India and trained at the National Defence Academy in Kadakvasla (similar to West Point), he served as an artillery officer in the Indian Army before being honorably discharged as a Captain, after which, Dr. Abraham George migrated to the U.S. in 1968, and obtained an M.B.A in Economics, M.S. in Finance, and Ph.D. in International Finance and Banking from the Stern School of Business at New York University.

His professional career included: Chairman of Multinational Computer Models, Inc. (MCM), a financial software applications company he founded; a Vice Chairman at SunGard Data Systems, a New York Stock Exchange listed company that bought MCM; and a Managing Director at CS First Boston, a global investment bank.

Shanti bhavan school

After living abroad for over 20 years, Dr. George returned to India in 1995 to start several humanitarian projects. In order to have the freedom to carry out his ideas and concepts, and to demonstrate the obligation on the part of private individuals of financial means to make contributions to the needy segment of the society, he decided not to seek any external funding for his projects during the initial ten years of activities. Now that several of the projects he has started have made a good beginning, he is seeking much needed funds from donors to expand and maintain his humanitarian work.

Dr. George founded The George Foundation in January 1995 in Bangalore, India, as a not-for-profit organization under the Indian Trust Act with a mission to work towards poverty eradication in India, promote environmental health, and strengthen democratic institutions and values in developing countries. Consistent with this mission, the Foundation initially embarked on two major projects, including Project Shanti Bhavan. And the other is Project Lead-Free, which provides Infrastructure to test for blood lead levels in urban population throughout India. In 1998-99, the project conducted 25,000 blood tests of children, pregnant women, and emergency referrals and this study led to a world conference in Bangalore in 1999 that resulted in the initiation of prevention measures by the Government of India and several other developing countries.

Subsequently, the Foundation initiated several new projects: Healthcare Projects: Amedical diagnostic and management system (EDPS 2000) was developed and implemented in 1998 to improve the delivery of rural healthcare. Subsequently, the Baldev Medical & Community Centre was opened in December 2000 to provide primary health care and health education for the rural communities around Shanti Bhavan. Women’s Empowerment project offers several initiatives are currently under way to empower women through education, cooperative farming (BALDEV FARMS), vocational training, savings plan, and business development. The Community Development offers various projects to foster community involvement and welfare have been successfully initiated by BALDEV community centre.

Tillany Fine Arts Museum and Gallery project is designed to assist talented and upcoming artists and artisans who have not been able to promote their work. These artists and artisans from poor backgrounds do not have the means to create art consistent with their talents, and display their work in the right environment.

Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media (IIJNM) is a joint venture of The George Foundation with Adi Chunchanagiri Foundation, under the banner of BS&G Foundation. The institute has developed the curriculum in association with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, New York, offering students a diploma program at the Master’s level, to promote quality journalism through a free, fair and independent press. Through Centres for Studies in Emerging Critical Issues, Dr.George has spearheaded several studies to debate and present viable solutions to economic, environmental, human rights and other major issues facing both developing and advanced countries. For more details, please visit: http://www.tgfworld.org, or www.shantibhavanonline.org.

 

BY AJAY GHOSH

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