Published: 19th August 2018
From weather forecasting to living in eco-containers, how this B'luru school is making homeless kids cool
When juvenile homes and foster homes can do little to help society's unwanted kids, Bengaluru's Ananya Trust has created a system where they get street-savvy and gin up on knowledge all at once
When Dr Shashi Rao landed in the US with a Master's degree in Economics, she was told that she could either work in a bank or in a daycare centre, owing to the status of her visa. Thanks to the monotony and dullness of a 9-5 job, in a couple of months, Rao ended up working in a daycare. But what she saw there was something unexpected. "There were children who came from broken families or were victims of abuse. They kept getting shifted around between their separated parents and their respective partners.This affected the children so much," she recalls. That's when she decided to delve more into the world of education and do a PhD in the subject.
What she learnt made for some compelling reading. "Learning controlled the mindset of children. It decided what they should be once they come out of school. People were trying to create the perfect person," says Rao. That was exactly the thought behind her, and her friend Priya Tiwari, starting Ananya Trust, an alternative school on the outskirts of Bengaluru, that is run for underprivileged street children and kids who were considered society's rejects.
Coming back to Rao's story, she returned to Bengaluru after completing her PhD in 1998. She was firm that she wanted to do something for children, but was unsure of where to begin. That is when she came across a few National Law School (NLS) students who were fighting a case for some street children. "Have you watched Slumdog Millionaire?" Rao asks me. When I nodded, she tells me that the life of street children in Bengaluru is no different from what is shown in the film. "These kids were all aged between 8-12. They were victims of abuse and the police had framed them for the murder of a gang leader. These law students were somehow able to help them get acquitted, but they had no place to go and we were sure that they would end up again on the streets," she says. That is when Rao decided to try and help.
Success stories: Many of the alumni of Ananya are now working in MNCs across the country
She would bring them into her home and try imparting practical lessons using everyday instances, "At that time, an India-Australia cricket match was going on. I'd watch the match with these children. That is when it hit me. I could teach them arithmetic using the cricket scores. That proved to be a good idea. Next, I taught them the alphabet and asked to find Australia on the world map. Many of them pointed towards Austria, but eventually found Australia," she says. "I explained to them that Austria is in the Northern hemisphere while Australia is in the Southern hemisphere. Also, my co-founder Priya had gone to Bangkok at that point. That gave me a chance to explain the concept of longitudes and time zones to them," she adds.
Needless to say, the class was a hit. The children were keen to learn new things and every day, more students turned up. That's when a new problem popped up — space crunch. That began a hunt for a new space for this school, which they named Ananya Trust. After trying out a whole bunch of places, they finally ended up in the current location, which is in the middle of a coconut farm on the outskirts of Bengaluru, near Sarjapura. The children stay here from Monday to Saturday and go home on Sunday.
Sailing Ahead: The boys' dormitories of the school are built out of shipping containers. These are also on raised platforms, making sure that no tree on the campus is cut
Ananya doesn't have classrooms. Classes can happen anywhere. And if you don't see a student opening a book, but instead playing a game, do not be surprised. The teachers believe that learning can happen anywhere and through anything. Children here are divided into six groups instead of classes. Each group comprises of children of all ages, where everyone helps each other to come up with common solutions to problems and are taught real life lessons. Every group is mentored by a teacher, who knows their student well enough to do away with the hassle of conducting examinations. No exams? Yep. Instead, children are analysed on the basis of how they put a skill to use in real life. If a child wants to study further in a regular board of studies, the teachers train them for the exams conducted by the National Institute of Open Schooling.
As Rao explained this, I saw a group of children along with a group of volunteers painting the walls of the school in bright shades. "Every year the groups change so that the children get to learn something new. This year, we are teaching them things through newspapers. This time, they are divided into different beats of a newspaper. Whatever they learn during the week is consolidated and put out as a newspaper," Rao tells us. At this point, the students were excited to show us their own publication, which they called 'Ananya Times.' Mosquito menace, rainfall, cultural events - they had quite a lot of things to write about.
Double joy: Ananya Trust celebrated its 20th anniversary in March
They have also set up a weather station where they measure the rainfall, temperature and wind. "We'll soon start a weather column in our publication soon," says Santhosh Padmanabhan, one of the teachers, excitedly. "This school is for children who are considered rejects and are termed as failures. But we don't believe that. We work with these children and make sure that they turn out to be assets to society," he adds, pointing at 60 smiling faces who've started embracing the goodness of life and are dreaming of a bright future ahead.