Nexus of Good: An enlightening endeavour
Operating on the principle of self-reliance, Pardada Pardadi School in Bulandshahr has been imparting all-round education to marginalised girls
When this NRI, Virendra Singh, walked to receive the Nexus of Good Annual Award, not many were aware of the wonderful initiative he had taken in a remote place in the Bulandshahr district of Uttar Pradesh. He is indeed the modern-day Mahamana Madan Mohan Malviya. If Malviya had taken donations from princely states and common people to set up Banaras Hindu University (BHU), Virendra Singh, fondly called Sam, has been seeking donations from India and abroad, to set up a Higher Secondary School — Pardada Pardadi School — for 3,000 students in Anupshahr town of Bulandshahr district. He has gone a step ahead. His motto is to provide employment to each student of his school.
In this exclusive girls' school, everything is on the house. Books, stationery, two sets of uniforms, education, a three-time meal, school bus and even laptops and computer tablets — everything is free of cost. Each student also gets a scholarship of Rs 10 for every day she attends the school. And, above all, each pass-out has a guaranteed white-collar job.
Each child entering the school is taught to be self-reliant from the very beginning. Presently, 112 ex-students of this school are working in different software firms in Bengaluru's Silicon Valley, while 141 former students are pursuing various professional courses in different educational institutes in the country. Several students have been receiving scholarships to various courses in foreign universities. Priyanka and Radha of this school are drawing a hefty package of Rs 8 lakh per annum.
Yet, there is no entrance exam to secure admission to this school. The only condition for admission to this school is – the girl should be from the most downtrodden and economically deprived sections of society. Thus, the students here belong to all castes, creeds and religions, including children of sex workers and toilet cleaners. They cook, eat and study together. Besides, they are also imparted skill education, basic hygiene training and moral education.
The school was started in 1999 by 'Sam' Singh, an engineer who worked in the USA for more than 42 years. He returned to his village, vowing to turn around the fate of women folk because, as he puts it — they can change the status quo in two places — their parents as well as their in-laws, after the wedding.
The school that started on Sam's 110-bighas agri-plot with just a handful of children, today has around 2,500 students from nursery to class XII. The octogenarian patron of this unique concept now plans to add another wing before the onset of admission season so that he could admit 500 more students next year.
The scholarship story
When Sam offered free education with meals, uniforms, books and stationary way back in 1999, few villagers agreed to send their daughters to his school. "If these young girls go to your school, who will do the menial jobs like taking care of younger siblings, collecting firewood, grazing cattle and making cow-dung cakes to be used as firewood", they used to ask.
That was when Sam asked them to estimate the cost of their daughters' labour and they demanded a sum of Rs 10 per day. The amount is deposited in each student's bank account, and they can use it only for financing their higher education or meeting their marriage costs, he says.
Hence, the girls like Radha and Neetu would have been married off to some landless labourer after attaining puberty, and given birth to kids and been flitting between kitchen and fields. These girls are now working as computer operators, nursing assistants or even yoga teachers in big cities like Bengaluru.
Sam also plans to make special coaching arrangements for his wards for all-India competitions like IIT-JEE and NEET. Besides, Tata Group and Nettur Technical Training Foundation from Bengaluru, have been absorbing almost all his pass-outs. Tatas, in fact, have been imparting on-job training with a starting annual salary of approx. Rs 2 lakh. It is indeed a significant amount for the girls, whose parents mostly are daily wage workers or landless labourers.
A major problem handled by the school administration is training the new inductees in basic toilet hygiene as most of them, being used to opening defecation, had never seen a toilet. A few years down the line, most of these girls may surprise anyone with their knowledge of the language, arts and sciences. Some of them are now training in sports. Their drive to excel is infectious. While 36 students are part of the district, regional or state-level teams, a 13-year Neha made everyone proud by getting selected for the National Basketball team in the sub-junior. She is presently training with other teammates in Uttarakhand.
So how is Sam Singh managing to meet such massive expenditures? Initially, he was spending approx. Rs 2 crore per annum from his savings and pension. Having spent 42 years in a multinational company like Du Pont, he had enough savings. But, with school growing by leaps and bounds, he decided to accept donations which don't come with baggage. Most of his donors are from countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Singapore. For the past two months, he has been touring the USA, the UK and Canada, collecting funds for the school.
Virendra Sam Singh is empowering not only the girl child but her entire family. He has provided jobs like stitching, embroidery and weaving to girls' mothers in a project aptly named 'i-village'. Around 300 women currently employed in i-village, have been stitching two sets of uniforms for 2,100 students while also making exquisite items to be sold in metros like Delhi and Mumbai.
Sam is also employing students' fathers by providing loans to buy milking cattle. He has also stitched a tie-up with Mother Dairy, which has been buying all the milk from their door/ village, thereby ensuring a regular and guaranteed income with which they can repay their loan and, at the same time, meet their regular expenses.
Pardada Pardadi Educational Society is helping villagers in a radius of 18-20 km to set up and run self-help groups. These groups educate the villagers about their rights and their entitlement to government schemes. At present, 5,500 members are running such SHGs.
The Atma Nirbhar mantra
Sam Singh claims that each of his students is all set to become self-reliant. Some of his students are now aspiring to become doctors, engineers and even IAS. They are aware that the government has allowed women to take the National Defence Academy examination, leading them to join the Armed Forces. Their parents too have become self-reliant. He feels if this model is taken up in rural areas across the country, in the next few years, each and everyone will have one or the other job in hand, making the entire country Atmanirbhar. That is when he will be satisfied, he says.
Virendra Singh presents a wonderful example of Nexus of Good, as the good work that he is doing through this model is replicable and scalable.
Views expressed are personal