JAN 2020  
Sky is the Limit: The School that Let Children Fly

In 2008, Sweta Kumari’s life took a turn. She came to Purukul, a small village, in the foothills of the Himalayas, outside the bustling city of Dehradun. A daughter of a watchman at a local supply depot, she couldn’t imagine studying in an English-medium school. Her fate smiled on her when she heard of Purukul Youth Development Society-Learning Academy (PYDS-LA), a unique school that imparts free holistic education.

G K Swami, a retired economist, who had come from Mumbai to Purukul with his wife, Chinni, with a mission to brighten up the lives of deprived children like Sweta Kumari, took her in her wings and she was admitted in Class IX. Slowly, she started working hard, competed against the best students, and emerged triumphant when she graduated from school in 2012.

Sweta Kumari’s grit and determination made her break the barriers of her low caste. She defied all odds and bagged a $10,000 annual scholarship, and completed her graduation from the Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh. She is now on her way to the USA where she will be pursuing her Masters from Portland University, Oregon, USA.

She is not alone. Today, hundreds of deprived children are living dignified and rewarding lives. Take the case of Shiksha Pundir, a Class IX student, who went to China for a six-month exchange programme, stayed with the host family there and came back with full of ideas, ‘Now, I can speak English fluently and I want to be an IPS officer,’ asserts Pundir. Similarly, Ankit Naudiyal, who joined the academy in 2009 and passed out in 2013, is brimming with gratitude for Purukul Youth Development Society-Learning Academy (PYDS-LA). Today, this son of a grocery store attendant, is a bright young software engineer with Infosys.

The academy is challenging the misconception that quality education is possible only for those who can afford it. Today, at the academy, more than 500 students are given free education, four meals a day, and 150 of them stay in the school’s hostel. Many have landed excellent jobs, scholarships, and even admission overseas after graduating from this academy that is affiliated to the CBSE and enrols students till Class XII.

G K Swami and Chinni Swami moved from Mumbai to Dehradun in 1997 and a few years later, established the Purukul Learning Academy. Today, it is regarded as a world-class school that imparts the gifts of reading, writing, and arithmetic to more than 500 deprived and disenfranchised children along with medical care, meals, and round-the-clock care. Many students live in the hostel at the school campus for no cost at all!

Once living in dire conditions, Urmila shares her inspiring story, ‘There was a flood in my village and I lost my mother. My stepfather was cruel to us and I ran away from home and became a ragpicker. One day, a lady, an NGO worker, took me to meet Swamiji at PYDS and my life took a positive turn. Swamiji legally adopted me. I could only write the English alphabet when I joined school, but within a year, I topped in English. Swamiji started this academy with five children; now, it has more than 500, out of which 150 stay in the hostel. I want to become a doctor. When my mother was hospitalized, I saw how doctors are life saviours and I too want to save the lives of ailing patients. I want to help them too as they had once helped me.’

The academy’s teaching faculty are friends, philosophers, and guides of these children. ‘We consciously involve ourselves to move towards the goal of education so that children imbibe values by not merely subscribing to them,’ avers Harwant Singh, Principal, PYDS.

The student and teaching fraternity take care of the neighbouring villages, and try to improvise their condition, ‘When they noticed that the villagers had to suffer under the thick cloud of smoke while cooking, our students designed a smokeless stove that uses lantana. Now, women don’t have to suffer,’ shares Haaris Jamil, Assistant Manager, PYDS.      

The story of Swami landing in this obscure hill village, more than a thousand miles away from Mumbai, is a fairy tale. After spending years as a freelancer economist, working as a foreign exchange expert, advising exporters and importers, he was looking for a meaningful post-retirement life. This journey started in 1997 when G K Swami decided to settle down in Purukul. Being an acute diabetic and having spent all his life travelling, he intended to spend the rest of his life in the lush green atmosphere, serve the community, and practise Yoga.

In this journey, his life partner, Chinni, an ardent co-traveller, hasn’t just settled down in Purukul, but she is also running Stri Shakti, a division meant for the welfare of women by providing them job opportunities to earn through their skill of quilt making.  ‘We wanted to live in a poor, yet peaceful state where not much was needed to lead a comfortable life. We came here in 1997 and lived in a rented home for three years,’ recounts Swami. He wanted to gift the children the power of education. As they didn’t have any place to start a school, their rented home became the school! ‘We got folding furniture for them. We went to a cowshed next door, where a class was started. It was my grandfather who felt that children must be educated and given necessary medical aid in case of illness. I treated ailing children with organic things and gave them good food,’ he adds.

After operating the school from their rented home and cowsheds, Swami was determined to build a separate building for the school. In 2003, news spread that a school, operating out of a half-built house, covered with some tarpaulin sheets, is imparting free education to deprived children. This reached the ears of Shri Sudarshan Agarwal, the then Uttarakhand Governor. After his visit to the school, he spoke to Chief Minister Shri N D Tiwari for a separate place, but nothing could materialize. This school was running in five cowsheds and three garages! But, the process of acquiring land for the school had started even before the new state of Uttarakhand came into existence, ‘In 1999, I entered into a contract with a man, who was once our guest, for `3 lakh as this land was in fact, a khala, (ravine), so he wanted to get rid of it and I bought it,’ shares Swami.

By the time the contract’s period was over, the new state was born and the land prices started to spiral and the man demanded more money. He wanted `5 lakh and the agreement had to be renewed. “Then, Chief Secretary Shri R S Tolia, an extremely competent and a thorough gentleman, called me and gave the sanction on the last day and saved it as the seller wanted it on the exactly cut-off date as he was getting a better offer,’ Swami reveals.

The school building had to be ready within a year else the land would go back to the government. ‘More miracles were waiting as one gentleman called to send the proposal by next morning and he gave me `35 lakh. He was from England, an employee of Head Hunting Co., and was given $5000 as an incentive to give to some charity. Call it a stroke of luck, I was chosen,’ tells Swami.

Slowly, the new school building started taking shape and teachers became full-time employees. There were eight classrooms, a small science laboratory, and a computer lab. Soon, a volleyball court, a basketball court and a badminton court, a Yoga hall, and a library were added to the infrastructure in 2007. PYDS-LA came into existence in 2008 and the first batch of students were enrolled under the BTTP (Bus Them to Purukul) scheme as many of these students were from nearby villages. It was not easy for Swami to convince parents to send their girl child to school as most parents wished to marry off their girls at an early age.

Gradually, the school expanded and three classrooms, a dining hall, a staff room were added to the campus. Soon, an early childhood learning centre called Shishu Shakti also started. As the school’s reputation grew, CBSE’s erstwhile chairman Vineet Joshi visited the school in March 2013, and inaugurated its Senior Secondary Block. Joshi was overwhelmed and remarked, ‘It is just out of the box. The best school I have ever seen’.

Today, the school has 510 children. The cost of educating each child is around `1 lakh per annum and the annual expenses cross `5 crore. All these expenses are met entirely by donations. ‘We are lucky to have people supporting our work but it is a constant challenge to generate enough funds to ensure that the quality of education is not compromised,’ says Swami. Swami has been instrumental in transforming many lives. Recently, two of his students, Mansi Chhetri and Shivam Belwal, featured among the top 0.1 per cent scorers in the English subject in CBSE schools across India.

Dr Rakesh Agrawal ‘Ridh’ is a doctorate in International Relations from JNU and has been writing on grassroots development and people’s rights, especially related to land, water, and forests.

© TERI 2020

Nominations open for CSP Today India awards 2013

The inaugural CSP Today India awards ceremony takes place on March 12, and CSP developers, EPCs, suppliers and technology providers can now be nominated.

CSP has made tremendous progress since the announcement of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission in 2010. With Phase I projects now drawing closer to completion, the first milestone in India’s CSP learning curve is drawing closer. CSP Today has chosen the next CSP Today India conference (12-13 March, New Delhi) as the time for the industry to reflect upon its progress and celebrate its first achievements.

At the awards ceremony, industry leaders will be recognized for their achievements in one of 4 categories: CSP India Developer Award, CSP India Engineering Performance Award, CSP India Technology and Supplier Award, and the prestigious CSP India Personality of the Year.

Matt Carr, Global Events Director at CSP Today, said at the opening of nominations that “CSP Today are excited to launch these esteemed awards, which will enhance the reputation of their recipients. I am particularly excited to launch the CSP India Personality of the Year award, a distinguished honor for the industry figure deemed worthy by their peers.”

All eyes will be on the CSP Today India 2013 Awards when nomination entry closes on February 4 and the finalists are announced on February 11. The awards are open to all industry stakeholders to nominate until February 4 at or by e-mail to [email protected]

Matt Carr
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