The economist who gave it all up and founded Purkul Youth Development Society, a Society that imparts free educationSnigdha Sinha
Ankit and Amit Naudiyal’s parents moved to Dehradun in the hope of escaping poverty. Ankit today works as an engineer at Infosys. Amit is with the Indian Maritime Services.
Meenakshi Pal had a harsh childhood. It was only her mother and her in a small house in Dehradun. With her mother abandoning Meenakshi all of a sudden, she was left all alone. Today, she works as a researcher at an HR firm and is planning to pursue an MBA.
In both these stories, there is a guiding light that lit up their path and helped these children reach for the stars – Swamy and Chinni’s Purkul Youth Development Society (PYDS).
Jet-setting to renunciation – Swami and Chinni’s story
Swamy’s story is riveting, to put it mildly. Early life in Lahore, college life in Chennai, and a fateful day that changed everything. He chanced upon some literature about capital investments and it arrested his attention. He poured over all the other material he could find and capital now had his mind, body and soul. Charity begins at home and he started helping friends with investments that bloomed. He met and married Chinni, when he was 21 and Chinni, 19. The hot-shot consultant and his young wife, packed their bags and headed to the city that makes dreams come true – Mumbai.
Mumbai gave him and Chinni more than they had hoped for. With his age and wealth exponentially proportional, they were beating life at its game. There is a price to pay for everything and for Swamy it was uncontrollable diabetes. When he turned 60 his doctor told him that if he continued with his current schedule he was heading for a life threatening disaster.
Swamy and Chinni decided to abandon the city life. They
gave up their belongings and headed to Haridwar. Haridwar didn’t give them the peace they were looking for. Their search took them to many places – Kumaon, Kasauli, Nainital, but nothing seemed to answer their search. The couple decided to come to Rishikesh, but the bus got them to Dehradun instead. They found a house and decided to lead a very simple life. But there was always an itch in Swamy which kept prodding him to do something. Swamy began teaching English to the children in and around the village. Swamy is 80 now.An economist who became an educationist
Swamy kept teaching these children. One day, their gardener forced Swamy and Chinni to see a piece of land. It was in Purkul, a beautiful and green little village. Chinni had her heart set on it, and the land was theirs. Children who Swamy taught English grew in number and kept coming to this home after school. Chinni fed them and the kids were in rapt attention when Swamy and Chinni spoke. The village women requested Swamy to accommodate a few more children. The handful of kids became 29 and Swamy took the decision to start teaching in a cowshed. Gradually the number of children started increasing and soon enough the shed got overcrowded. The mothers would sit around, waiting for the lessons to get over. One of the mothers asked Chinni for some work and this turned into Chinni teaching women quilting.Things took a drastic turn when the villagers offered Swamy an acre of land at a ominal rate to build a school. Financial help poured in from places Swamy didn’t expect and the economist now was now an educationist. He found Yoga and his health started improving as well.
Purkul Youth Development Society
Purkul Youth Development Society, registered in 2003 – an NGO located in the Himalayan foothills is dedicated to enhancing the lives of underprivileged young people in the community. “I just want to give the best education that any school can offer to those who can never reach it”, says Swamy.
The community children flocked to join the school but the criteria for taking on new students remained unchanged; they had to want to work and succeed and they had to come from the poorest backgrounds.
Unfaltering in their dedication and tenacious in their goals, the Society along with its friends, raised the necessary funds to erect and establish a custom built school building by 2006 with full time regular teachers. Since then the campus has steadily grown from strength to strength and is now a fully functional school equipped with a dining hall, computer center, e -labs, science labs, libraries, sports grounds and a yoga hall.
Then to Now
“Our ethos is to nurture children from very poor backgrounds through free quality education, mentorship, day long attention to nutritional needs and complete healthcare through long years of attention.” Midday meals have been available almost since inception; four feeds a day – breakfast, fruit, lunch and evening snacks is being given since July 2008. The school aims to stimulate the curiosity and the questioning mind of the child. Experiential learning is the basis of their instruction programme. Swamy adds, “Doing, Discovering and Learning is the road that we are taking. The number of students is around 25 in each class and the attention given to each student is intensive.” From just four students, the society now has 339 children under its wings. In a landmark achievement the school was granted CBSE affiliation up to Class 10th effective from 1st April 2011 and Class 12th effective from 01st April 2013.
PYDS isn’t just a mere learning facility; it practices the principles of ‘Gurukul’ and provides an enabling environment to maximise learning. Apart from academics, students get exposure to dance, drama, theatre, yoga, field trips, excursions, adventure activities etc. to come out as well rounded human beings.
There are many who have helped achieve this transformation and some of these names are recoded by dedicating a tree in the campus to them.
PYDS boasts of 87 school graduates with 23 of them successfully employed and 31 pursuing vocational education. 21 students are pursuing their higher education while working. The Society provides the deserving students with an interest free loan after completing their Class 12 for further studies and they repay the loan once they get employed. Many of the employed students make small contributions in the form of donations to the Society as well.Swamy adds, “We have a very high teacher to student ratio and personal care is given to each student. All these have yielded excellent results to the development of the character of the child and the cultivation of their character building.”
Larger outcomes have been that the community has realised the importance of good education with their children doing well for themselves. Intangible impact like hope in the youth about their future is also a positive, Swamy counts.
Swamy tells us that it is not an easy path to tread on. Recruitment of the most deserving child is a challenge. “Our aim is to support the poorest among the poor. The biggest challenge that we face is to identify the most deserving. People often lie to secure admissions. For this purpose we carry out a screening test followed by the personal survey by the surveyor to see the family condition and the nature of poverty.”
A constant monster that most NGOs struggle with is funding. PYDS is no different. Swamy says there has never been any help from the government. “Board Members have earned nothing from out of this work since it is all voluntary. The excellent infrastructure that the Society now has and the regular expenses they suffer for managing this programme are met out of private contributions that are regularly collected. The Society currently owns assets worth about Rs 7.5 Crores and all this has been found out of charity. The annual expenses that support PYDS is about Rs 2.5 Crores.” PYDS is raising funds for a girl’s hostel inside the campus. “This will provide the essentials for the students to live. It will provide basic and adequate facility for boarding and lodging and healthy environment to devote time to studies. All facilities will be provided to these children free of cost. Their only focus will be on studies and we shall provide all that is necessary for them to excel.”
Swamy says that the community has been very supportive for the last 15 years. He says, “They have been the true supporter of our work and appreciate our efforts for this community. It is thus a challenge to carry out the same relation and making sure that the sentiments of the community are not hurt. “
Education really is the answer
Swamy says a vehement yes. “We realized that children in this area need counselling and guidance so that they create opportunities for themselves. Mentorship and giving hope are important. We wish to demonstrate that excellence is possible among the rural poor through providing them these inputs. A sense of self-esteem and confidence to learn and progress in life can be built in this manner. When these children excel, they become the change agents of the future.”
Swamy and Chinni’s dream
Swamy keeps busy with making PYDS better every day. Chinni’s tribe of women who she teaches has grown to 170 skilled workers who make beautiful handmade quilts, home accessories, table ware, bags and quilted jackets, etc. This gave birth to Purkul Stree Shakti, a social enterprise where the once uneducated and timid women own and run it with aplomb. Chinni heads it and keeps reinventing new ideas and designs to stay abreast with the market. On September 13, 2015, Chinni and the women of Purkul will inaugurate a shop at Hotel White House housing it in the very room they first stayed in when they came to live in Dehradun – years ago.Facebook page