In the cause of fighting illiteracy-linked child labor, the first Born Free School was built with a 1000 children and young people from schools and colleges and from over 15 countries. This school is located 20kms from Bangalore in Banjarapalya on Kanakapura road, it became a successful model education center�
Every child is Born Free.
Free from hunger.
Free from poverty.
Free from hatred.
Free from toil.
How many children in our country are living free?
There are 333 million children in India, who form a third of our population. Out of this 150 million are in school. A hundred million are either primary school dropouts or working Or walking and sleeping on the streets, with the sky as their blanket and the earth as their bed. The stars twinkle, but there are too many to count. And they do not know how to count!
�The progress of any society can be gauged by the freedom and rights enjoyed by women in that society�, wrote Engels. Today we must say that the development of any society can be gauged by the absence of Child labour in that society. And Child labour is modern slavery. A society with a rich heritage and legacy and very modern sensibility and technological advancement cannot depend upon a hundred million pairs of tiny hands to produce its wealth and thrive on it!? Abolish this child slavery. Let our children play and learn in schools and colleges. Nobel laurate Amarteya Sen said, � Only when Primary education becomes a fundamental right will there be social and economic development of India.� Easier said than done. There are so many such laws and resolutions that sound good, but are never realized. Education empowers. Until the voluntary spirit of the people take up this task of educating and empowering our children, changes in the social pattern will become a distant dream.
Our theater is called the Mudde Mantapa; The theater of the Ragi ball eaters. The Mudde Mantapa expresses the dreams and aspirations of the common man. The ragi representing ordinary people articulated. A new aesthetic order of the rights and equality of the brown people, most of the time the Dalits. This new aesthetic order demands a radical approach in its deliverance and appropriation and is both and simultaneous. The theater is a very powerful tool for searching the truth and finding the spirit of the inner self, both of immense value in self and social education. We need to find the truth together, which preponders the question of the teacher and the taught. The mass media through its well worked out glittery ostentatious well-packaged glorified consumerist images break the concept of critical thinking, that which is elementary to dreaming. So dreams are lost . Society is poverty stricken to dream. How can we then think of a new world? On the other hand there is greater and greater mystification of life and all its nuances. The more you mystify technology and its products the more expensive and hence more profits.
Does not all knowledge accrue to society and derive from its cumulative years of social and Self-civilizing? How can any one claim ownership to this social knowledge? A computer made of silicon is nothing more than a handful of sand, mystify and copyright this commonly inherited common sense it sells at Rs 50 000 a piece!
The heritage and legacy of Indian knowledge-experience has been through a great oral tradition and practice. The folk art narration of wisdom and understanding provided much entertainment and essential knowledge. Education through entertainment and entertainment through education became axiomatic, what light is to vision so is fun to learning.
Our theater group set up a campaign to enkindle the voluntary spirit of children and youth through fun and entertainment. Through its power theater, songs and invigorating dance it urged young people to teach just one other person in their lifetime to read and write and to motivate youths and children to bear the critical role of educating the uneducated and illiterate. Half a million young made the following pledge;-
I, Shonali, will teach my brothers and sisters to count the stars, the birds and the trees. I will teach them the alphabet and the numbers and teach them to read and write. I promise this day upon my heart and upon the knowledge I freely received from my ancestors.
This campaign gathered such momentum that it demanded an edifice for education. Our group drew up a plan to build classrooms for a government school in Banjarapalya. Why here? Because there was a model school established here by an enlightened teacher and head master Paramesh. His dedication to educating the village children, fighting tobacco smoking and alcoholism through the students and his innovative methods of teaching science and mathematics made him a role model. Given the same resource as any other Government school, he proved that it was not through fund availability, but through innovative ideas and commitment that education can become a meaningful experience.
To further strengthen it build it into a movement.
There were 180 students, the entire school, from the first standard upwards to the seventh standard in a meeting, which lasted for three hours.
�What do we need?�
�We need, library, games field. Newspaper, extra classrooms, toilets, bus to school from our villages, Uniforms, books, computers, we need a temple!�
�Which God will you put in this temple? We have a lahk and half gods!�
�We shall put knowledge into this temple!�
And so we decided to build a temple of knowledge.
Who is going to build this Temple of Knowledge?
It is we, all of us. Each one shall contribute time, talent, material and money, any one of it or all of it! From each according to his capacity. We acted on the principle of shramdhan, contributing ones labour. Young people from all these nations were motivated to join in this process. Of building this school .for the youth from other nations this school would be a window to India and its way life, for the Indian youth this school and the interaction with other people would become a window to the world.
The first step was to raise material and money to build the walls. We took our plays from school to school, from college to college, from street to street; we campaigned and collected shop to shop. �I will give you ten rupees, but what will it fetch you? Said the shopkeeper on Commercial Street. I will get 6 bricks for my school sir answered the fund raising student!
The school was raised by over a thousand young people 35 schools and colleges and from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Japan, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Nepal, Bangladesh, Slovenia, USA, UK, Czech Republic, China, Singapore and the list is endless! This was a first time hands on experience for many in construction. As the Architect of this school it was my primary concern to educate all those involved the simplicity of building, of cost effective structures, of saving fossil fuels in the transportation of material, creating fun and frolic in the urgently needed. CHILD ARCHETECTURE. Intimate, friendly, colorful, vibrant warm hearted, open spaces, with breeze blowing through as in the woods. Every brick in the school has been in place by a child not as a labourer but to enrich its experience and contribute to its very own magnificent edifice.
Why this unique status?
When I attended my first lecture in civil engineering class, the teacher asked the question, �What is a plan?� At the silence of the students, he said � A plan is codified common sense� In all of my engineering studies this value remained deeply etched. In my memory and learning. The construction was very simple; it was only an imitation of nature. To be sure nature has no straight lines. Following the path of nature the construction took many round forms. Understanding this commonness, building was simple so that anybody could do it. The youngest builder was Sangeetha seven years old. There is the open-air theater and stage, reaching the first floor is a double flight of steps, coming down for the student it is easy, not so for the teacher, because the student can just slide down, the slippery slide! There are four twisted pillars, which trap and circulate the air. The vaulted fiberglass roof has four sections:- there is the map of Gondwanaland showing how the world looked like in its unbroken state, a map of the world in its present form, a map of India, and the Star constellations. You can see the stars during the day too. For the floorshow we have the state map of Karnataka and the Bangalore city road position map. Here the teacher puts forth a question, show me the cotton growing districts of Karnataka? Where do they grow ragi, or sugarcane, or rice, which of the districts have iron ore? The students can run to the districts and stand as on a chessboard. The writing boards are not black or square, but are formed as Dinosaurs, Dodo, Elephant, Mango, �.
True Internationalism and secularism comes only from nature. They know no origin or boundaries. They are unlimited by there reach and travel. The fiber glass window panes have embodied within them leaves from different trees and plants. The children can be involved with a game which keeps them guessing. What is this leaf?
Then there is a 20�X10� egg tempera painting of a child bringing in deliverance of darkness by handing over to others the light. Painted in the time tested egg tempera which was practiced in the 6th century in the Ajantha Ellora cave paintings and by the Italian master Botticelli, by children, this mural remains as a great tribute to act of liberation of children by children.
On the first floor wall is seated a peasant youth amidst ripe swaying mangoes and lush crop of ragi writing poetry, the legend says; �only when the peasant write poetry will there be a revolution�
This is a statement to the development of our rural society. 80% of our Indian population live in villages creating a wealth of art and culture. But ironically all dominant culture is produced in the cities and exported to the countryside. When tender coconut is freely available to the villager he would opt for the toxic Pepsi or Coco Cola! The poet peasant in the school also demands that real education should take place in order to stop the trend of primary school dropouts migrating to the cities. Children who built the school are very proud of their effort. Almost in unison they say, �This is my school and I want to study in it�, why? �Because I built it.� There was a remarkable shift in their attitude towards education and learning. The school belonged to them and they to the school! Education means to draw out, the collective strength of a community to raise a school. The spin off value and impact is spiral and rewarding, answering many questions regarding education.
The school was built cost effective at Rs 200 per sq foot. Many people came asking for a school in their own villages, for which we answered, get ten people together some land and you can do it. It is a replicable model. The education department has taken a keen interest in the school and desires to emulate it in other centers. The issue of education can be resolved through active community participation and demands an holistic approach, which most of the time is non-academic. A determined social-political will is essential. Not money but imagination and commitment to overcome illiteracy.
We don�t just want one school as an island of achievement, we want schools in every village cluster. And they shall be called BORN FREE SCHOOL. As the first article of child rights say, every child is born free!