Sri Aurobindo Rural & Village Action & Movement (SARVAM), an initiative of Sri Aurobindo Society, is on a mission—of creating a village community model that is empowered and developed in all spheres of human existence. In 2005, SARVAM started its societal developmental programmes at seven villages in the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu, covering 1,400 families and 7,000 people. Taking the work further, at present the developmental activities have been extended to 18 villages covering 3,500 families and 20,000 people.
Most of the villages are in the most impoverished conditions and almost the entire adult population is illiterate or semi-literate. A majority of the households do not have sufficient money to educate their children and depend on the free government schools. Unfortunately, the government education budgets are concentrated on primary education, leaving the secondary and higher education highly neglected and the standard of teaching at those levels extremely deplorable. The most glaring of the problems with government-run senior schools is that of infrastructure and teaching staff. Poorly maintained buildings, dilapidated classrooms, ill-equipped libraries and laboratories, lack of sanitation facilities and even drinking water are other issues that the students grapple with every day.
Around these villages, there are a few private schools offering quality education but the fees and other facilities cost a lot, which is not affordable by the parents who barely manage their basic needs. Because of these factors, most of the students discontinue their studies after 10th standard and are forced to take up menial jobs in the nearby factories. Parents think that if they are at home they will waste time and should contribute to the household income so they send their children to jobs at very young ages.
In most cases, the girl students are the first ones to be withdrawn from schools and not allowed to pursue their higher education. Despite their keenness to further their education, they are forced to take up menial jobs or even married off at tender ages even after scoring high marks in the public examinations to provide financial support to their parents.. Aspirations and ambitions of many students are crushed due to this ignorance and lack of opportunity and resources, and quite a few of the bright students are psychologically affected by the fact that they cannot continue their education.
Another distressing fact which has recently come to light is that in some cases when students are able to convince their parents of the importance of higher education, there is a glaring lack of funds and loans from government and the organized financial institutions for rural children. Some of the parents have borrowed money from private moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates and with great struggle put their children in college. However, with the burgeoning interest amounts and overwhelming debts, after a year or two these poor people are not able to pay the fees and the children are forced to discontinue their studies. After having completed one or two years of studies in colleges, when the parents ask their children to discontinue their studies, most of youth face extreme depression and stress, and some of them start abusing drugs and alcohol combat their despair or even get into crimes.
Scholarships for Rural Students
To reverse this situation and to motivate the students to pursue their secondary and higher education, every year SARVAM sponsors deserving students. In the last few years, many students have been benefitted from this programme and have continued their education without any hindrances. Setting a positive example, when other parents see some children of their village perform well and get good jobs and make careers, they are also motivated to support their children’s education to help them achieve their goals.
In this drive to support rural education, corporates such as L&T INFRASTRUCTURE FINANCE COMPANY LTD. and BUSINESS AND COMMUNITY FOUNDATION (BCF) INDIA have extended a helping hand and provided monetary help to fund secondary and higher education of students, with the remaining amount contributed by Sri Aurobindo Society. Most of the students who were capable and hardworking but being forced to discontinue their education due to financial reasons were helped, and now all of them are pursuing their higher education in schools and colleges.
This year, starting from September 10, 2016, more than 105 students are being provided scholarships in three phases. The selection of students to provide scholarship is done through a stringent check in backgrounds and in consultation with schoolteachers and village officials. Children of widows, destitute and single parents are primarily selected, as they are the first ones to drop out of schools due to their financial and social conditions.
A Spiralling Movement
As more and more students receive these opportunities, it motivates other students of the villages to continue their education. They and the SARVAM coordinators regularly meet other students and parents to convince them about the absolute necessity of higher education for better prospects in life and development of rural communities. Till date, the students who have benefitted from this programme have shown extremely promising results. All these students have shown great responsibility in bringing very good scores in their choice of higher education and are beacon of hope for their villages and indeed an example for rural populations all over India.