Published: 19th May 2021
A chance village visit led to this Osmania grad setting up a happiness school for the kids there. Here's how
Bheem Children Happiness Centre is situated in a small hamlet called Neelam Thogu in Telangana and works to instill in tribal students basic lessons, good habits and the importance of happiness
At Bheem Children Happiness Centre, in a tiny tribal village called Neelam Thogu in the district of Mulugu, Telangana, the letter 'A' doesn't stand for Apple. It stands for ant.
Why, you may ask. Because it makes lessons more locally relevant. Rhymes in the local language are the norm du jour and cleanliness is a carefully-cultivated habit. Just check their fingernails and you'll know.
Meet the kids | (Pic: Bheem Children Happiness Centre)
As its name suggests, happiness is the dominating factor through it all in this small hut which was previously used to keep cattle and has now turned into a temple of learning. Over a period of one month, every child, usually from Classes II to X and who attend the sessions at the centre, is observed through the keen eyes of two teachers. How they behave in class, how their attitude towards learning is and most importantly, how happy they are. The student is hand-picked and then given a gift in the presence of the whole village and that's their crowning moment. Thus, the happiness of learning and life itself go hand in hand for students, a tenet that the centre hopes that they will carry forward for the rest of their life.
Children from the ages one to three years are also brought to the school while their mothers are away working
Education is an essential
Happiness for Esram Santhosh Swaero means photography, of course, it was a long journey of self-discovery that led him to figure this out, but when he did, he dedicated his time to photographing tribal-inhabited pockets of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Chhattisgarh. "It is during these travel stints that I understood that education might just be the only way out for them," says the 26-year-old who hails from Narlapur village. When the pandemic descended and as a consequence the lockdown, he cast aside his camera and took to service. It is while delivering essentials to Neelam Thogu that he realised that education needs to work it's magic there. "One needed to pass a river, trek and walk or bike for about 16 kms to get to this hamlet," says the Cyber Law student at Osmania University. But nothing could deter the 26-year-old once he set his mind to it. Moreover, the youngster holds education in high regard because he himself studied via an NGO and is the first generation in his family to study. "I was enthusiastically encouraged by my teachers which is why I am what I am today. I wanted to extend the same encouragement to the kids of the gutti koya tribe who reside in Neelam Thogu," he shares emotionally.
Santhosh | (Pic: Bheem Children Happiness Centre)
It all started in the first week of May, when Santhosh went with essentials to the hamlet. Slowly, when the youngster and the villagers developed a rapport, he disclosed his intentions — that of imparting basic education. It took 15 days to bring the villagers on board and one day to turn a hut into a centre. They made a roof and put up pictures of Dr BR Ambedkar and Komaram Bheem, towering personalities from India who backed and believed in equality. Initially, a Class VIII dropout called Parmesh was teaching the students and was paid for it too. Soon, Santhosh enlisted the help of his friends Veerelli Sheshinder Reddy and Gunmantha Rao, who have already worked as teachers in NGOs, to teach the 40 children that turn up every day. These two are also responsible for putting together a simple curriculum that involves basics of English, Math and Science. Then, of course, there are moral lessons like hygiene, cleanliness and so on.
Naresh, a friend of Santhosh from OU, is helping with administration duties of the centre like salaries, funds and so on
Lessons for the talented
The operations of the centre usually begin bright and early at 10 am and go on till about 1 pm. The students are treated to eggs and what follows is their favourite session, sports. Football is their sport of choice while the team dreams of introducing archery. "The children are exceptionally talented when it comes to creativity and physical activities. The draw so well and climb the highest trees very easily. Girls from our centre would easily climb the wood apple trees around and pluck the fruit for me," says an awestruck Santhosh.
With the kids | (Pic: Bheem Children Happiness Centre)
He also shares an instance of a young student who, due to an unpleasant situation in his nearby school, hid in the forest for three to four hours and refused to go back to school. "He was so fearful. We tried to explain to him that this is not a regular school and that he won't be dealt with rudely or thrashed," recalls the travel photographer. In this way, they cajoled him to join the centre. Even the community seems to be happy with the small steps towards the overall development of the students which the centre is taking.
Santhosh quit engineering to focus on photography, which he is extremely passionate about
In light of the second wave and the lockdown, the centre remains closed but the two teachers visit the hamlet twice or thrice a week to deliver eggs and check up on the children. But Santhosh's dreams for these children is only growing. He envisions this centre to be the first of five that will come up in the future, provided he has the support of the community and the appropriate funds to do so. One of his more ambitious dreams is to set up a residential school for the children. "I already spoke to the district collector about it. It's in the planning stage," informs the youngster who is currently in Hyderabad.
For more on him check out twitter.com/EsramSanthosh