Indefatigable spirit to ameliorate Sweta Kumari’s life, came to Purukul, a small village, in the foothills of the Himalayas, just outside the bustling city of Dehradun, on the way to Mussoorie, the popular hill station, in 2008. Being daughter of a watchman at a local supply depot and the only bread-earner in the unlettered family of six until they started selling vegetables out of a rented shop nearby, she couldn’t even think of a high-standard, boarding, English medium school, but as she had heard of a unique school that imparts free holistic education, hostel and loving care. G.K. Swami, a retired economist, who had come from Mumbai to Purukul village with his wife, Chinni, with a mission to turn the lives of deprived children like her upside-down, decided to take a chance and never regret of it as Swami took her in her wings and she was admitted in class 9. Then, she started working hard, competed against the best and emerged triumphant when she passed out in 2012.
Her grit and determination soon born the result when Kumari, belonging to the lowest rung of the economic strata and the first-generation learner bagged a $10,000 annual scholarship and completed her Graduation from the Asian University for Women, Chittagong, Bangladesh.
She is now moving to USA for doing her Masters from the 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 15-years old student of Class 9, went to China for a six moth exchange programme, stayed with the host family there and came back with full of ideas, “Now, I can speak English fluently and wants to be an IPS officer,” says Pundir.
Similarly, Ankit Naudiyal, from who came here as a class nine student in 2009 and passed out in 2013 and can’t thanks PYDS-LA (Purukul Youth Development Society, Learning Academy), as now, this son of a grocery store attendant, today is a bright young Software Engineer with Infosys.
God as a concept is very difficult to conceive and grasp as God is an abstract entity that is omnipresent and omnipotent that an ordinary human mind finds it very difficult to conceive, so they conceive Him in smaller objects, from where some advantage could be derived, “Like in an idol, a temple or a mosque and they believe it as the Supreme Power,” says Swami. For him, innocent and natural smile of a deprived child is the real message of god.
Parvati Saha, a 9 years old student of class four whose mother was having stones and had to be operated, but died due to the negligence of her father and poverty, is now looking forward for better days, as she is a proud student of this school now. Supreme Power, for him is reflected in an individual, this case, in children of his adopted village, Purukul, on the outskirts of Dehradun and beyond, in the entire state of Uttarakhand!
The school is breaking the conception that quality education is possible only for those who can afford it in expensive private schools. Today, more than 500 students are provided free education, four meals a day and 150 stay in the school’s hostel. Many have got excellent jobs, scholarships and admission aboard after passing out from this school that is up to12th standard and is affiliated to the CBSC.
It has pick-up and drop services and periodic health check-ups.
G.K. Swami & Chinni Swami moved from Mumbai to Dehradun & formed PYDS-LA, more than two decades ago, in 1997 and today it has become an out-of-the-world school, imparting the gifts of 3Rs: reading, writing and arithmetic to more than 500 deprived and disenfranchised children along with medical care, food and round-the-clock care as many live in the hostels in the school campus and all for no cost at all!
They have changed lives of thousands of children who can now see a ray of hope on the horizon and many were living in hellish condition, now they are out from it like one Urmila, who tells her story, “My village got flooded and my mother died, my step father was very cruel to us and I ran away from home became rag pickers. One day, a lady, an NGO worker, took us to meet Swamiji at PYDS & it changed my life. Swamiji legally adopted us. I could only write the English alphabet when I joined the school, but within a year, I topped in English in my class and in all subjects within two. Swamiji started this school with five kids, now it has more than 500, out of which 150 stay here. I want to become a doctor as when my mother was hospitalized, I saw how doctors are life saviours and I, too want to save lives of sick people. I too want to help people as they helped me.”
Other children have vibgyor dreams like Akhil Rawat, who is just ten, a student of Class V, wants to be the president of India when he grows up and another student, Elin Kerketta, a 15-years old girl student of Class 8, joined PYDS in 2010 to study art and craft, wants to be a designer and would never stop creating, or Ramzan Ali, a 11-years old, Class 4 student, Makkawala village, Dehradun district, loves to read comics and watch animation films. Wants to become an actor. “I will never stop dreaming.”
The school teaching fraternity works as the friend, philosopher and guide of these children so that they could indeed touch the sky, “We consciously involve ourselves to move towards the goal of education to build a clarity of persecution so that the children see things as they are, imbibing values as they are, not merely subscribing them as they are,” tells Harwant Singh, principal, PYDS. For this, constant teachers training and improvisation in teaching technique is needed, “That we regularly carry out, so that the course content isn’t merely covering the syllabus, but also learning the life-building skills that has made both teaching a learning process in which both the students and teachers are equally involved”, informs Vandana, coordinator, Senior, PYDS-LA.
The student and teaching fraternity also take care of the neighbouring villages, trying to improvise their ameliorating condition a bit, “Like when they noticed that the villagers had to suffer under the thick could of smoke while cooking, our students designed a smokeless stove that uses lantana. Now, women don’t have to spend time and energy to collect fire wood and suffer in smoke,” tells Haaris Jamil, Assistant Manager, PYDS-LA.
This journey that started in 1997 when Mr G K Swami retired as a freelance economist in Bombay, decided to settle in this Purkal village just outside Dehradun. “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, and serve the community and keep on practising Yoga,” tells Swami.
In this journey, his life-partner, Chinni, is an ardent co-traveller who hasn’t just eagerly settled down in Purukul, but is also running Stri Shakti, a division of the Society, meant for the welfare of women by providing rural women opportunities to earn through the skill of quilting.in fact, the very idea of establishing such a division was hers so that women could be economically independent and realize their true potential.
The story of Swami landing in this obscure hill village, more than a thousand miles away from Mumbai, is quiet a fairy tale. After spending years as a freelancer economist, working as a foreign exchange expert, advising exporters and importers when to take risk and when avoid, was looking for a meaningful post-retirement life. Job was to help people on exchange rates, Now, both his children now live abroad, so he found no use to live in that mega-city, “We had no reason to live in Bombay and wanted to live in a poor, backward & peaceful state and as Uttarakhand was a part of UP then, I thought it must be a poor & peaceful state, where not much is needed to lead a comfortable life. That’s how we came &landed here in 1997& lived in a rented home for three years,” tells Swami, of his arrival in this village. And, here is wanted children to give the gift of education, remembering Nelson Mandela, who once said that education can change lives.
As they didn’t have any place to start a school, their rented home became the school!
He looked at the village school as it was the perfect starting point and found that as it was up to class V, he started class VI & VII with Pushpa Khanna, who became its principal, then he went to Scholar’s Home & got children. The school became such a hit in no time that, “The community asked us to teach their children, the no became 30”, he tells. After some time, he built his home in 2000, their classes began there. As he didn’t have content knowledge, and wanted to teach them the facts of life, just not the bookish knowledge. To accomplish it, he bought an old Fiat car & took them to many interesting places like Wadia Institute, Survey of India, FRI etc. then, others helped his to take these kids to Delhi.
As the number of students grew, more teachers were needed and he got 4-5 teachers and 40 children & as he registered this school as an NGO that streamlined donations.
As the school was started in his own house, where our own rooms became their classrooms!
“We got folding furniture for them. We went to a cow shade next door, where a class was started. It was my grandfather thought was that children must be educated & cured, so when a child fell sick, I took him into my own old Fiat to a doctor. I also know a lot about nature care, so I treated them with natural stuffs and gave them food, good breakfast and lunch,” he tells.
Chinni, her soul-mate is a perfect supporting pillar, who was my first teacher & a good cook for these children and when she realized that these kids are the children of very poor people who had no income, so they were overwhelmed for our teaching programme and then, we started an income generation one for them, making South Indian namkeens & sweets and 18 women earned a good amount, say 3000 per month, for the first four years on its operation.
Then, it transformed into PYDS Stri Shakti, an NGO that operates many income generation and skill building activities like quilt making, patch works, spice making etc. and now 117 women are under her wings.
As their effort of putting some money in these people’s hands succeeded, they hired a small home in this village for this programme.
Shortly after the tutoring program began, a few sponsors funded formal education of these children in a Local English Medium Secondary School. The number of children seeking this support swelled and the strength was 24 as on 30th June 2002. The Jaswant Modern School and Scholars home provided fee concession to these children.
The students joined us after completing Class 5 from local Schools, principally the John Martyn Memorial School. We had to give them rigorous remedial help to make them competent to join reputed Schools in the city.
After operating the school from their rented home and cow-shades, he was determined to erect a separate and exclusive building for this school and then what happened was indeed a miracle, rather, a series of miracles.
It was the year 2003 when the school was operating in a half-built house, covered with some tarpaulin sheets that looked somewhat workable, but its news spread that such a school is imparting free education to poor and deprived children and reached to the ears of the Uttarakhand Governor, Sudarshan Agrawal, who expressed his desire to see this place!
He came & saw it and spoke to the Chief Minister, ND Tiwari for a place, but nothing could materialize and this school was running in five cow shades and three garages!
But, the process of acquiring the land for the school had started even before the new state of Uttarakhand came into existence as, “Before this state came into existence, I entered into a contract with him a guy who was once our guest for Rs. 3 lakhs as this land was in fact, a khala, a ravine, so he wanted to get rid of it and I bought it,” he tells.
By the time, contract’s period was over, the new state was born & the land prices started to spiral and the guy demanded more money as he wasn’t ready to give for 3 lakhs now. He wanted 5 lakhs now, & they had to renew the approval, as now the UK state came into existence and a fresh sanction was a must as PYDS society was registered prior to the state creation and is fresh property is there after it, a new sanction is needed. “Then, the Chief Secretary, RS Tolia, an extremely competent and through kind and gentleman person, Tolia called me & 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 better offer,” Swami reveals.
But, as the bank approval was needed as it was already 12 in the afternoon, he rushed to the bank & called this guy. But, a miracle happened again as his father passed sway & he couldn’t finish the deed for 13 days, the mourning period and thus, he got a 13-day reprieve!
Another miracle took place in 2006 when the time was running out & he had no money. Then, from UK, a pop band called UB40, he got a call from a man from this band that has been his society to give its collections this year for five lakhs!
He sent five lakhs & how this money arrived.
And, there were more miracles waiting to happen, as the authorities said that the school must come within a year. They gave the approval on this condition, else the land will be roll back to the government. “Then, one gentleman called me to send the proposal by next morning & he will give 35 lakhs. We spent the entire night, baking the blueprint & as we’d built this house ourselves, so we had a fair idea about architecture, so I and Chinni worked together, divided the land into 12 quarters, one for each class, designed the walls & I knew about cost & all. 35 lakhs, divided into square feet, no of classes, etc.” tells Swami.
But, they got the shock of their life when the very next morning, he informed that the money won’t come as it has gone to other place. “We were totally in dark and had lost all hopes. But, after a few months, he called me & asked if the project was still on, I said yes and the next morning the money landed in my bank account in 2005,” Swami tells.
Later, he discovered, in England, there is a company, Head Hunting Co that has branches all over Europe and they have a no of employees. This guy was one of them. Every year, they select a few employees, send them on a leisure trip and give $5000 as an incentive to give to some charity. They shortlisted three charities in the world. They shortlisted one in Botswana. But, they found it was a shame, now they’d to find an alternative. They decided India & here, they found them!
But, it wasn’t the end of this miraculous story as there were many more slips between the lips and the cups. They got another shock when the bank asked them to get furnish the Foreign Currency Regulation Act (FCRA) certificate, but they didn’t have it, so the bank denied to release the money. Then, Keshav Desiraju, Principal Secretary, Health who had just visited them once, contacted them as he was very impressed by their work. “He asked us to contact a guy in Delhi and in three hours, I got the FCRA approval,” he informs.
It was in this year that the teachers became full time employees and the school initially started with 8 classrooms, a small Science Laboratory and a computer lab. This infrastructure was adequate at that time for running classes from 6 to 12. Very soon thereafter, he added a volleyball court, basketball court and a badminton court in 2007 the administrative office of the Society was shifted from Swami’s house to the Society’s campus. A Yoga Hall and a library was also created in the school.
Indeed, this school is the culmination of so many miraculous incidents that it was clear, “As God wanted it to happen, all life is surrender, if you surrender to Him, whatever good you want it happened,” Swami and Chinni say in unison.
The first two years of the new school was the period when it took a cautious step, very much like a new born takes his first step. With the idea of establishing it a full time School – PYDS Learning Academy came into existence in 2008.
The first batch of students were admitted under the BTTP (Bus Them to Purkal) scheme as many of these students were from nearby villages and needed a lot of remedial help to cope up with the standards of any School. It was not easy for Swami to convince parents to send their girl child to School as most parents wished to marry their girls at a certain early age and therefore wanted them to learn house hold work rather than anything else.
Then, as students had to spend almost the entire day in the school from 7.30 in the morning to 5.30 in the evening, that led him to realize that students needed adequate nourishment to perform well. So, from July 2008 onwards four feeds a day: breakfast, fruit, lunch and an evening snack was started.
Gradually, the school expanded and three classrooms, a dining hall, a staff room were added in the campus as support trickled in. to lure very young children, an early childhood learning centre, an early intervention centre, to catch them young– Shishu Shakti was also started. This was a crèche and much more for the children of women working in Purkal Stri Shakti Samiti (PSSS) that was a part of PYDS until the 10th of October 2010, then spun off as a sister Society. PSSS has now emerged as a business model and works as an umbrella organization for around 10 Self Help Groups.
After a couple of years of their working the school gained CBSE affiliation for running a School up to Class 10.
And, Mr Harwant Singh, who started his journey as a teacher at PYDS during its struggling years when the school operated from Swami’s home & cow shades, is now leading the Academy as its principal.
The society got a thump on its back when it was selected as the regional winners from North for the India NGO Award in 2011.
And, the school continue to grow as a new block of the School comprising of six classrooms, a senior library and a laboratory were constructed in the same year.
The School’s reputation was expanding by leaps and bounds, so much so that even the CBSE was impressed and its erstwhile Chairman, Mr Vineet Joshi visited the school on the 10 March, 2013 who also inaugurated its Senior Secondary Block and now with the addition of six more classrooms, a dedicated laboratory each for Physics, Chemistry and Biology and the school office, it was now a fully-fledged senior secondary school, up to Class XII.
Joshi was overwhelmed and wrote in the school visitor book, “Wonderful lifetime experience. It’s just out of box. The best school I have ever seen. All the best. Please keep it up,” and granted it the CBSE affiliation up to Class 12 effective from the 1st of April 2013.
and, when the state suffered with the worst disaster the same year, the school opened its doors for the victims of the flash flood and undertook the responsibility for nine students whose families were devastated in the flood
“As the days passed by, we equipped our Physics Laboratory. We also commenced one of its own kind experiment of setting up an e-learning laboratory to encourage self-learning through the net,” tells Swami.
Soon, it had a hostel building for 60 underprivileged senior girls studying there. “This was an essential requirement as poverty, discrimination, gender bias and lack of infrastructure such as electricity often diverts attention of students from studies,” tells Swami.
For boys also, it built a 28 bedded hostel.
Today, the school has 510 children, all poor, deprived and disenfranchised, meeting the huge cost as, the cost of educating each child is around Rs. one lakh per annum and the annual expenses of over Rs. 5 crore 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.
This way, Swami has been instrumental in transforming lives: from a porter’s daughter to a graduate teacher, from a street child to a B Tech student, from the daughter of a guard to a student in an American university, and many more, evident when its two students, Mansi Chhetri and Shivam Belwal recently featured among the top 0.1% scorers for English subject in CBSE schools across India.
There are many more such stories where such children, considered as invisible garbage of the society are touching stars today like one Jyoti Mamgain, daughter of a lady worker in PYDS’s Stri Shakti division recently got selected for a 100% scholarship for a four-year university programme in the USA and another girl, Aditi Thapli, daughter of a small kiosk owner, is going to Wharton School for a summer training programme while Shalini Sharma, daughter of a gardener, has won the Kennedy Lugar scholarship and will be going to the USA for one year. “This school has given be the confidence that I can be anything I want, if only I work hard enough. My life took a turn since I enrolled here six years ago,” said Muskan Godiyal, a class X student who is also a Brown University scholar, having attended a cultural exchange programme in USA, also daughter of a gardener.
The school won the laurels of the international educational world when it was chosen by Mind Mingle in 2015 for a visit by around 20 Principals of reputed Schools from around the country, for following– a unique concept of teaching – an emphasis on learning rather than teaching.
For the octogenarian Swami, tomorrow isn’t just the another day as he has a mission to accomplish and has already started working on writing the next chapter for the gen next as he is building it a STEM driven School that aims at, “Making children Technology friendly and innovative has always been our desire although getting there has involved investments and people. In 2013 we experimented with establishing an e-learning laboratory. This is being optimally used now,” tells Swami.
Already, action has started on it and they are now planning to set up a Tinkering Laboratory. This is an idea of the Niti Aayog, Government of India. Its objective is to foster curiosity, creativity and imagination in young minds; and inculcate skills such as design mind set, computational thinking, adaptive learning, physical computing etc. soon, the School will apply for it and hopes to get selected.
Unlike almost all other schools, PYDS-LA doesn’t severe its connections with the outgoing students as it has On to Life – Post 12th Support programme, providing help for their ‘life after Schooling” to these students. This is very crucial for these students as the competition for admission into good professional Programmes calls for mentoring and counselling and pursuing professional college education post School is also a challenge due to the rather high costs involved. “We make sure that children do not get demotivated due to their poverty. While most of the parents have been appreciative of their child getting higher education, we have had instances when parents were against it,” tells Swami.
For this, they counsel children and help them examine career alternatives that might suit their talents, interests and skills. The society provides assistance to deserving students by helping them access academic scholarships, interest free loans etc. They have also been able to interest individual sponsors who helped fund the University education of many deserving students.
Little wonder, the School is proud of its alumni who are beautiful living examples of its Vision of Transformation. From humble beginnings of a poor rural backdrop our young adults are now successfully pursuing professional Programmes in the field of Management, Engineering, Architecture, Pharmacy, Accounting, Economics etc.
Until date 151 students have passed out of its scheme and we have been able to help around 40 students pursue professional programs.
This miraculous journey trades further on this temporal road as today along worth this 2.5 crore worth property, he is also building 400 hostel rooms & houses for teachers in a close by village, Rikholi and wants to house these children, so that they are not connected with their household problem. “Now, we want such schools in hill villages, so if I can find a few acre land in a hill village, in Uttarkashi, Pauri or Chamoli district. Our idea is to collect children as early as possible, quip them to face the life, transform it,” Swami tells his future vision.
Already, he is trying to collect children from the upper regions of the hills and has got 25 under its Navjivan Programme. Many have already touched the sky as one girl became a boxer & joined Mary Com Institute.
That’s what he wanted: transforming lives, lives of poor, deprived and disenfranchised children. And, he started from scratch, with this goal in mind. In this journey, a number of miracles took place, confirming his view that, “All life is surrender, if you surrender to Him, whatever good you want it happened and the God wanted it to happen.”
And, this way, Swami, whose great grandfather was a purohit (priest), but loved education and first educated himself and then, his brothers & sisters,” Swami tells about his family, who was later ostracised for pursuing education as he landed up in Britain for medical education and the entire family had to live in a shanty town in Chennai, from a village in Tamil Nadu, has turned the lives of many upside down, while totally surrendering himself to the Supreme.