A thousand lights to educate unprivileged girls at Sahasra Deepika

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The story of Sahsra Deepika is written on the skin of its founders, T.V. and Vijaya Ramakrishna. The smooth and gentle skin on the serene face of the former tells about the calm, the patience and endurance that the enterprise required. Whereas the dancing lines that wrinkles draw on the expressions of Vijaya recount about determination, energies, multi-tasking, and the ability to grandmother hundreds children with the most genuine and sweet attitude.

The aim of Sahasra Deepika – which means ‘a thousand lights’ – is to provide quality education and and assistance for higher education to unprivileged girls in Bangalore. Its centre consists of a building that hosts 57 girls and a school, which is now being expanded to include additional six classrooms and toilets. It has a playground, a computer room, a kitchen garden, and, being in a semi-rural area, plenty of green around. It provides meals and full accommodation to girls, as well as extracurricular activities such as yoga, drawing competitions, and games organised by volunteers.

 

The centre is at the very south outskirts of Bangalore, where trees and plant can still be defined lush. However, isolated five-floor buildings and elegant schools are there and are rapidly increasing. Urban and rural realities create an interesting contrast which leads to think about the dynamics of change. Transformation is fundamental, but “how” this happens is often complicated and controversial.

“In India everything is transforming and the vastness of change is such that there is no single entity able to direct it homogeneously.” Argues T.V. Ramakrishna, explaining that Sahasra Deepika started in 1998 believing that private initiative is fundamental to determine positive change in India. More specifically, the couple wanted to offer their contribution to make good schooling more accessible. “I became an orphan myself at an early age, and the possibility to study in India and in the US made me appreciate deeply the value of quality education,” T.V. Ramakrishna comments.

Formerly, the centre accepted boys and girls but for the past six years it has reserved all the available places for girls only. The couple thought that in India, as well as in most countries in the world, they face more threatens than boys in social and working environments. Education would make a huge difference to them.

While Vijaya is busy supervising chai-making in the kitchen, I have a quick chat with one of the girls in the centre. Her English is very good and she is very much at ease talking with me. She says that the main reason why she enjoys staying at Sahasra Deepika is that all her best friends are there. Her favourite activity is to work in the kitchen garden; while she does not always like to wake up early for morning yoga! I ask her about her mum and she tells me about her recent visit to her family with her.

Two main reasons that make Sahasra Deepika worth of attention are that firstly every pupil is individually followed throughout high school and receives support to find placements in university. “Recently, two of our boys went into engineering and another one in commerce getting straight As!” Asserts Vijaya delighted, moving her energetic hands and opening her tired/lively eyes wide.

Secondly, the institution stresses on the importance of maintaining relationship between the girls and their (single) mothers. “Every mother we deal with loves her children, no matter how crude she is. And we want to keep that bound because it is fundamental for kids’ healthy growth.” points out Mrs Ramakrishna.

The girls look indeed very happy, but what about the sustainability of the centre? Vijaya says: “ The land is given [by the couple], buildings are already there. What will be needed is administration only.” The centre is registered as Sahasra Deepika Foundation for Education in the USA and as Sahasra Deepika International for Education in India which help them receiving support through donations; and a team in each of the two countries manage the organisation.

When it comes to social enterprise, things are very unpredictable. Failure and success are extremely complicated concepts, because at stake is the intricate dynamics of human life. Sahasra Deepika has very good infrastructure, it has a good staff and plenty of volunteers who come and assist. The strong bound girls keep with their mothers prevents the establishment of ephemeral affective relations between ‘orphans’ and volunteers that often damage their psychology.

These are solid and durable bricks, but they strongly depend on Mr and Mrs Ramakrishna’s sensitivity and knowledge. Vijaya says: “Children are children. And their mind is not the same as adults’ ones. This affects all the decisions we make because everything needs to be for their benefits and understanding. Every child wants to live like billionaire children, but we need to make them appreciate what they are and we need to do it in the best way. This includes discerning the main elements of each kid’s personal character and approaching them accordingly.” This shows an admirable understanding of the task the couple has undertaken and greatly explains the success of Sahasra Deepika (you can get a gist of their several awards on their website). The greatest challenge for the centre now is to implement solid policies to guarantee the girls’ healthy and happy growth which will last regardless of who is in charge of the centre management.

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