Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Swami Vivekananda had exclaimed, "If the poor cannot come to education, education must go to them". The Sewakunj Ashram of the Akhila Bharatiya Vanavasi Kalyana Ashram is in the endeavour of bringing this dictum to practice. I was highly fortuitous to celebrate republic day here, and, justice is not done if a post in this blog is not dedicated to Sewakunj.

Not very far from Varanasi is a district (in Uttar Pradesh), Sonebhadra, that is home to a large number of tribals. Notwithstanding its vicinity to this ancient city which is considered to be the seat of learning, the number of poor illiterates in this district has reached shocking figures, the literacy rate among the people being only around 40%*. Despite the vast industrial development in this region, the economic conditions of people have hardly improved. To most of the poor tribals, getting 2 square meals a day is the greatest comfort they can ever think of. For many parents, education of their children doesn't seem more worthy than the petty rupee notes that their children earn if they are sent out to do odd jobs. Thus, convincing the parents that education of their children was more important, was by itself a herculean task. Owing to the persistent efforts of a group of philanthropists the SewaKunj Ashram was setup in 1998, at a remote place- Chapki, situated nearly 200 kms from Varanasi. Ever since, Sewakunj has been catering to the educational needs of poor students of this area. The students are given not only quality education totally free of cost, but are also given free accommodation and food.

( A routine class)**

At sewakunj, the day dawns at 4 a.m. After offering their routine prayers, the students assemble in the classrooms for their lessons. The students, almost 65 in number, belong to classes 2-9. Sewakunj caters to classes upto 6, whereas the remaining students have to attend classes at a High school about 7 kms from Sewakunj. The children cook food for the ashram, in turns and also take care of the cleaning and other activities at the ashram. They are also engaged in music, dance, gardening and sports like football, archery etc. It is indeed an appreciable achievement that every year, 10-12 students from here get selected for Training in Archery by the National Sports Authority of India. Some students also succeed in obtaining seats for B. Ed and Engineering.
(The students cook food on rotation basis)**

(Republic Day Celebrations - 2011 )
Thus says the elderly Mr. Veerendra Narayan Shukla, one of the important member in the group, "We have taken the help of the government in the setting up of the ashram. However, our recurring expenses are managed solely using the generous funds collected from people". He adds, "people are ever ready to contribute, provided that the right use of their money is guaranteed". Indeed, of what better use can money be put to, than educating a poor child!
(Lunch being served)

Mr. Anand, who is the person responsible for the smooth running of the ashram seems to have a wonderful rapport with the students. Mr. Shantakumar, an enthusiastic social worker and Engineer at NTPC, opines that, "This is also a silent, positive war against Naxalism. People who joined naxalism with a sense of adventurism, now want to exit. They themselves cannot come out, so they desire that at least their children should have a better life. Such avenues give them a way for better life".
(The students enjoy doing odd jobs in the ashram)**

Here, nothing could be more appealing than the discipline of the kids. In contrast to modern education, where money is the driving force, in Sewakunj, it is Discipline and Moral upliftment that finds more importance. I am of the firm opinion that our education system shall fare better if its prime focus is shifted from money to intellect and discipline. I hope that in the years to come, Sewakunj shall brighten the lives of more deserving students and that it shall be a benchmark for other organizations working towards the same goal.
(Archery @ Sewakunj)

Readers are requested to also visit the blog of the Ashram.

* As per the data issued by the govt. of Uttar Pradesh based on 2001 census.
** Image Courtesy of Mr. Shantakumar.

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