Published: 19th October 2020
How this Sahitya Akademi Award-winning poet and Govt School Headmaster in rural Karnataka has transformed the face of a tiny school
Veeranna Madiwalar, a Headmaster and a Sahitya Akademi Award-winning poet, speaks about how he has transformed a government school on nothing but sheer grit and Facebook activism
Veeranna Madiwalar is a man who always aims for stars. "Not for myself, but for my school and the future of the kids studying with me," says the Headmaster of the Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Ambedkar Nagar, Nidagundi village at Belagavi district. When Veeranna said that he aims high, it is not just in terms of marks but the infrastructure and facilities provided at his school. He explains, "Our government schools should be no less than any international school. It is only with great infrastructure, will we be able to prepare children for higher education."
With teachers like Veeranna, not only is the face of government schools changing, so is the perception of people. From clean, advanced classrooms to clean toilets, this headmaster-cum-writer has been providing everything for his students phase by phase. But what led him to work towards the development of this school is an interesting story. He recalls, "I had this dream of becoming a teacher and improving the government schools when I was in class 7. I always wanted to turn these schools into model schools. Soon after completing my BEd, I was posted as a teacher at one of the government schools in Haveri in 2002. While I couldn't improve the infrastructure there, I had put a lot of effort into improving the IQ level of children. I taught them to read, write and think logically. In my three years of service at that school, I tried to introduce kids to different study methods and they loved it. However, I couldn't transform that into my dream school."
Meanwhile, Veeranna's interest in poetry and writing intensified from 2007-12. In fact, he won the Sahitya Akademi Award for his poetry collection Nelada Karuneya Dhani. "I got recognised nationally as it was the first time in the history of Kannada literature that a poetry collection got a Sahitya Akademi Award. This was the first book in the history of Kannada Literature to be converted into an audio book. As a result, I garnered a lot of followers both on social media and among Kannada book readers."
In 2010, Veeranna was transferred to another government school in Chikkodi taluk. Though he came from a rural background, he was shocked to see how children and education was neglected in that area. He explains, "Most of the children would either work in the brick manufacturing factories or in the sugarcane fields. They were being deprived of basic education. Hence, I started writing news reports that appeared in several Kannada newspapers and it was discussed even in the assembly sessions. I also invested my time and money in helping kids complete their education. I would post these details on my Facebook page along with their photographs. Many of my friends who were living abroad came forward to help such kids. One such student is currently studying engineering in a private college in Nipani."
Unlike other teachers who don't opt for higher studies, Veeranna took a two-year-long sabbatical to pursue a Masters in English Literature. On coming back, he continued to work in the same school in Chikkodi. In 2014, when he was posted at the Government Kannada Lower Primary School in Ambedkar Nagar, he realised that the time was ripe for him to transform this into his dream school. "Forget classrooms, there was no compound wall even. So, I spent some money from my pocket and built a strong compound wall," he explains. And then politics struck. " The teachers here did not like me taking up these initiatives. Hence, they went on leave. I was left alone to teach the kids at my school. It was a difficult time for me as I felt depressed and demotivated. I had almost quit the job but my mother did not let me do so," says Veeranna.
Determined to make it count, he came back and this time, he was ready to face anything. While he spent money from his pocket and worked to rebuild the classrooms, he posted everything on his Facebook page. It so happened that a lot of volunteers came forward to help him with funds. As a result, the headmaster not only built new classrooms, he even got a projector installed to provide digital classes to children. They also created a beautiful garden and a playground on the premises. Next, it was time for him to build toilets so that students wouldn't have to search for outdoor spaces to do their business. Veeranna explains, "Since, a lot of donors were coming forward, I had already secured Rs 2 lakh. But I wanted to build toilets with facilities that we would see in urban homes and not just village ones. The revised estimate was Rs 4 lakh. I presented the same proposal to the School Development Monitoring Committee and the government took some time to allocate it. When it did come, I informed the department officials that I would need Rs 2 lakh only as I had already collected Rs 2 lakh from people. I requested them to divert the remaining amount to other schools to build toilets. They were shocked to hear what I told them but they provided the money to another school to build toilets for children. Finally, we built toilets, urinals and bathroom separately for boys and girls."
Now, Veeranna has over 120 children and four teachers. But there are only two classrooms and with the increasing number of kids, they will need at least two more classrooms. Hence, with the crowdfunding from villagers, Veeranna bought a neighbouring plot recently. He says, "A philanthropist has come forward to help us with building classrooms on another plot of land. Due to the pandemic, this work has been stopped for time being. Once the classrooms are built, we will have a huge school for kids."