For children considered untouchables, Buddha’s Smile School is making dreams come true
Buddha’s Smile School (BSS) exists because of the founders’ love for these children.
What is childhood but whiling away time, daydreaming of growing into someone noteworthy? Iniquitous as it is, young minds snubbed as ‘untouchables’ are deprived of these simple pleasures, in addition to the already deplorable lives they lead.
To Rajan (48), each of them was like any other kid, full of potential. What was lacking, in her view, was motivation, care, and most importantly, love. Built on these values, BSS, located in Sarnath, near Varanasi, offers basic education to severely underprivileged children coming from local slums, refugee families, and the Harijan community.
A dream to teach
Hailing from a middle-class family in Kolkata, Rajan married Sukhdev against the wishes of their families. “My husband happened to visit Varanasi after the death of his friend’s grandmother. Once there, he decided that this was where he wanted to restart our lives.” They then shifted to the nearby village of Ashapur.
She lived in the Brahmin-populated region of the village and also taught most of their kids. Observing the way the Harijan children were treated, she decided to do something about it.
“Watching the suffering they went through, I walked up to them daily. Interacting with these beautiful souls, I learnt a lot. Soon, we grew close.” she expresses. But with prejudiced mindsets all around, Rajan was asked to put an end to this behaviour. “I couldn’t care less. I began teaching them in my house.” Motivating them with hopes of receiving chocolates if they paid attention to learning, Rajan’s will to do something concrete for children looked upon as outcasts grew stronger.
Nurturing hope for the disadvantaged
In 1998, Rajan’s father-in-law, accepting the couple's love, purchased some land in Sarnath. This helped fuel their dreams. Opening a café and a small school called ‘Humpty Dumpty Kindergarten’ on the land, Rajan says, “What I felt bad about was that I would lose touch with the children. I took a rickshaw to Ashapur every day, to spend at least an hour with them. I felt continuous care was necessary.” she recalls.
Having to cope with the daily struggle of paying auto fares, Rajan sold her gold chain to help ease the situation. However, the money did not last very long. “I always felt someone out there was watching all our efforts. In November 2003, one of the volunteers studying Buddhism in Sarnath, inspired by my work, agreed to help us out with transport. It was then that we opened up BSS.”
This non-denominational, non-profit school started out with 30 children, taught to dream as they blossom. “At BSS, we don't just teach the children, we provide them with food as well. The children are given nutritious midday meals which are cooked in the cafe run by my husband,” says Rajan. To many, this is the only good meal in a day.
Creating promising futures
BSS provides primary education from nursery to the fifth grade. BSS then sponsors scholarships for them to study in schools around the area. Their subjects include math, Hindi, English, science, and moral studies along with fun extracurriculars. "We understand that education goes beyond classroom learning, requiring play and discovery. We teach music, crafts, and drawing, also offering short summer courses in dance for the students to discover and develop their talents. Unlike typical schools in India, we foster an atmosphere of love, kindness, and healing." says Rajan. With nine teachers and a principal, the school has no regular or long-term volunteers. Tourists visiting from around the world help with school activities.
Today, BSS has grown to 220 students, out of which a 104 have middle-school scholarships. Their true success has come in the form of a few of their students going on to graduate from college. With funds being difficult to raise, most sponsorships are received through selfless donors contributing to the school, says Rajan. This year, BSS has taken help from a crowdfunding platform to ensure every student has their own study material. The money raised will be used to provide textbooks and stationery for each of the students, with none of them having to borrow or share, for a change.
Displaying relentless perseverance through times of distress, Rajan continues to nourish young lives. From holding on to children dropping out of school, slipping into begging so as to support their families, to fighting with parents, convincing them to let the kids attend school, every day is a battle she manages to overcome.
A new day care centre, set up by BSS in October 2016, helps young female elementary students attend classes regularly without having to stay home caring for younger siblings. The babies’ daily needs, such as milk, food, health check-ups and vaccinations are taken care of by the centre.
“I am proud of what BSS has achieved thus far, but this is not the end. If we receive an opportunity, we will spread our wings and foster the many children out there waiting for guidance and love.” For all her years of undeterred empathy and kindness, Rajan has been honoured with the Unsung Heroes of Compassion award from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.