BENGALURU: About 45 km from Bengaluru, Desapandeguttahalli village offers a unique contrast. Amid natural abundance and rural lifestyle, stridulating crickets freely play their music, but 325 undisturbed children learn life values. This is where Anjana Vidya Kendra has been operating since 2001. Established to be strictly close to their natural, rural lifestyle but yet gain holistic knowledge, the high school provides knowledge to children belonging to families in and around 12 villages. Sons and daughters of small-time farmers and farm workers speak faultless English, ask questions, receive wisdom, and discover the unknown.
Run by Brahmi Educational and Cultural Trust, the initiative is helmed by Dr Channa Raju, an IIT-trained aerospace engineer and scientist at the National Aerospace Laboratory.
“Born in a village named Arehalli, 1km from Anjana Vidya Kendra, I was the twelfth child of poor parents. The only educational opportunity was a makeshift school with a single teacher. And the main motivation to go to school was the noon-time meal,” he recollects.
To pay fees for private tuition to learn English in the fifth grade, he worked as a child labourer.
When he finally finished high school, he was offered a job as a fitter-cum-mechanic. Under financial pressure, he nearly accepted. However, his destiny was changed by two brothers, Dr Praveen Raja and Dr Naveen Raja, who were his high school friends at the Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Whitefield (they are two other founders of the school).
They supported his entire education in Aerospace Engineering at Anna University. He later graduated from IISc, completing his masters' programme in Aerospace Engineering. Dr. Raju eventually completed his Ph.D. from Indian Institute of Technology - Chennai.“In 1995, I got a job at NAL. And soon after, the urge to give back what I received started to nudge me. Along with a few friends, I started the Tamarind Tree Project in 1997. We zeroed in on a slum, Munibaichappa Colony at Jagadishnagar,” he says.
He identified 85 children who had marks cards but no knowledge. “We selected 25 children of the lot who had potential and enrolled them in government schools. But in 1999, when we took stock, we were disappointed because most of them had dropped out. That is when the idea of our own campus cropped up,” he says.He started Anjana Vidya Kendra in 2001 on half an acre of donated land. The initial buildings were built by friends while the High School building was funded by a consortium of corporates. Salaries and running expenses are still met by trustees, patrons, partly by parents and several individuals and volunteers contributing to teaching and administration.
“Now we have three acres where we have 14 classrooms, a laboratory, library, open-air auditorium, a small temple and organic farms. We also have a unique nutrition and noon-meal programme,” he informs and adds that the school has had the distinction of getting 100% results five times out of six SSLC Board examinations so far. Dr Raju now wants to add 11th and 12th classes and move to the next phase of his mission — to build a residential school. He travels 33 km every day from NAL and back. He recognises every child in the school, gratified that in the shallow waters of vulnerability, they are learning to swim.