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October 02


School from scratch

- by Dirk

Kireet has been instrumental in opening a new school

Kireet has been interested in education, yoga, and the environment from his early years. Before he came to Auroville he had been a teacher in The Netherlands for 23 years, was active in Auroville International, taught yoga, and developed a beautiful garden that was renowned throughout the region. The decision to settle in Auroville meant leaving his beloved pupils and garden behind, but his interests traveled with him. After his arrival he built up from scratch Gaia's Garden, a small community in the north-eastern part of Auroville near the coastal village of Bommayarpalayam. "It was a new experience for me. I had to get used to tropical plants and trees, to become sensitive to their needs of sun, soil, water. It was and still is a very rewarding process," he says. The cashew grove has been beautifully transformed over the past four years into a wonderful garden, which forms an ideal setting for the community guest house. The proceeds from the guesthouse enabled him to initiate an erosion control programme. During the last five years 35 check dams have been build in canyons, retaining up to 50.000 cubic meter of rainwater during a good monsoon.

Education has always had a special place in Kireet's heart. According to him, "Education is one of the best possible avenues to change the environment positively. That is why I wanted to explore ways to introduce a more progressive educational programme in Bommayarpalayam." The village was lacking a good school, unlike other villages in and around Auroville. Apart from that, Bommayarpalayam has a lower literacy level (60%) than the state average of Tamil Nadu (70%), and a high unemployment rate. He explored several possibilities to tie up with existing schools, but nothing materialised. Until one day, "I read an article in AV Today about the Kuyilapalayam School Trust (KST). It appeared a successful school, with classes up to 11th standard." Moreover, the students achieved more than average results (70%) in their examinations (the passing mark level in TN is 35%). He approached the Trust and in 2000 they came to an understanding that Bommayarpalayam School would be a branch, a sub-school of the KST. And the mother school agreed to take responsibility for the necessary administration, admission procedures and selection of human resources.

Again, funds were needed and again the proceeds from the Guest House proved indispensable. Also a number of well-wishers contributed smaller or larger sums. Even in Kireet's former village in Holland a small sum was raised.

The Auroville Land Service allotted a piece of land in an old idyllic mango grove, situated on a plateau with a majestic view over the Bay of Bengal in the vicinity of the village. The grove is an ideal backdrop for games, outdoor lessons, and performances. It provides a sense of solidity, care and intimacy. Werner, an architect who recently joined Auroville, dedicated his services free and designed a curved school building, which overlooks the sloping land towards the ocean and catches the refreshing sea breeze: an inspiring environment for children to grow and develop their creativity. The overall design provides space for nine classrooms and an administration building, as well as a small amphitheater. Each classroom is about 45 m2 (405 sft) and the required sum for the first three classrooms and necessary infrastructure stood at Rs 12 lakhs (US $24.700).

The construction work started in April 2001. The work proceeded smoothly (although the roof required some additional re-designing) and 14 months later the first phase was completed. On June 5th 2002, World Environment Day, the school opened with 2 teachers and 20 pupils. The choice of date was not merely a coincidence, but stressed Kireet's conviction that environmental awareness includes and commences with education. But that was only the beginning. Now, three months later, after a temporary fourth classroom with a palm leaf roof had been built in the mango grove, the school has grown into a Kindergarten with 120 children and 4 teachers.

"In order to bring the children from the surrounding villages and the mother school, a school bus seemed necessary. But we had no funds at hand, save a reserve of Rs. 2,5 lakhs (US $5,100) to cover the running costs of the school, the salaries of the teachers and a pump. KST proposed that if we would provide this amount, Palmyra, the main sponsor of KST, would add another 6.5 lakhs (US $13,400) for the new school bus. It was a difficult decision for us. However, the school bus was purchased and we have faith that the running costs will be covered by additional donations".
The bright yellow school bus is indeed a prominent hallmark on the premises, and it enables dozens of children to come daily to their school in an idyllic environment. It is rewarding to see their smiling faces when under the trees or their serious expressions when learning their lessons or see them greet Kireet with joy and spontaneity.

"We have come a long way from the first idea of a progressive education project to the present realisation of the first phase of the school. Still a lot has to be done. Due to the sudden increase of children and teachers we are faced already with a lack of space. We would like to start with the construction of another three classrooms and a teachers' room. Ultimately, the school would accommodate both a Kindergarten and Primary school section."

Says Kireet: "I started with Gaia's Garden from scratch. However, not only the garden grew; it provided the financial support for the erosion control and educational projects. It is as if Gaia's Garden is seeding itself to help improve Auroville's environment."

For more information, contact kireet@auroville.org.in 

See also: KHS

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