Features

ICFAI gives deprived kids an English education
Part II
Continued from last week

Suresh Perera, News Editor, Sunday Island recounts interesting experiences in Hyderabad following a media tour organised by ICFAI University.

The visiting Sri Lankan media delegates were accorded a warm welcome at the ICFAI Republic School, a modest and unpretentious building complex tucked away in a quiet corner of Fateh Nagar.

As a non-profit educational society, ICFAI University channels 783 million Indian rupees per annum to meet the overall expenditure of this popular school, which ensures an all-round, quality education for under-privileged children.

Consonant with its lofty ideals, and with ‘Wisdom and Knowledge’ as its motto, the ultimate vision of this proud seat of learning is – "To reach children from low economic backgrounds and provide them with knowledge, skills and facilities to enable them to compete in the mainstream. To help children transform into responsible adults and support themselves and their families and nurture human value in them".

"We have to allocate one thousand rupees for each of the 783 students as ‘running costs’ per month", says Koshy Verghese, Director, Alpha Foundation, which administers the school under the aegis of ICFAI.

"With classes up to Grade 5, we enrolled 463 students in 2004. But, this year, with an enhanced intake, we have upgraded classes up to Grade 8", he elaborated.

Tiny tots peered curiously as we were guided around the orderly, spick and span complex.

"These are children of the poorest of the poor – most of their parents cannot even afford the nominal ten rupee admission fee", said Ms. Mala Sundharesan, a charming young lady who serves as the Co-ordinator.

Their small, innocent faces cracked into a crop of smiles as we walked into an immaculate classroom. Inspired by their teacher, the tiny voices chorused, "Good Morning".

"These children are handpicked by us through a rigid process of screening to ensure that the most deserving are accommodated", Sundharesan continued. "Preference is given to the offspring of wayside vendors minus a regular income".

"We personally visit their homes to see for ourselves the ground conditions, talk to the parents or guardians and urge them to send the children to school", she elaborated.

"They live in such shocking poverty that most parents, largely illiterate, demand ten to fifteen rupees per day from us because that’s the meagre income these children earn on the streets to keep the home fires burning", she said softly, her eyes turning misty.

Recognised by the Andra Pradesh government, ICFAI Republic School not only provides these poor, slum children a quality education, but books, milk and nutritious mid-day meals are also thrown in gratis.

"We provide school uniforms under a heavily subsidized scheme and charge an incredibly low admission fee simply because we don’t want them to feel everything comes free, and hence should not be appreciated", Sundharesan stressed.

"For orphans and parents who cannot afford even this very small payment, it is completely waived", she noted. "The money raised through these charges are ploughed back to buy gifts for children".

Displaying remarkable traits of discipline, the children lined up orderly and patiently awaited their turn to be served their mid-day meal. Aides were at hand to readily help the hungry tiny tots, feeding and guiding the new entrants until they gradually learned the ropes.

"They are so cute", observed colleague Sanjeewa Tennakoon, as a pretty tiny girl with long hair, threw a curious glance in our direction, amidst her busy chore of happily mixing the rice, dhal and vegetables on her plate and fed herself.

"We also conduct special classes for over-aged children who have never been to school", the Co-ordinator explained. "What we should bear in mind is that these impoverished children have only this school to fall back on as their parents are illiterate".

Apart from the profound dedication and commitment of its 40-member teaching staff, another striking characteristic of the ICFAI Republic School is its cleanliness.

"The importance of personal hygiene and keeping one’s surroundings clean and tidy are also inculcated into the young minds", Sundharesan emphasised.

It is common to see some desperately poor children keeping away from school after some time. "When that happens, we visit their homes and bring them back".

Next year the in-take of students will be further increased by upgrading classes up to grade 10, said Ms. Vennela Nandury, who also works as a Co-ordinator.

Children of diverse ethnic backgrounds study together in a salutary show of unity and amity. "Whatever their local languages may be, we conduct studies exclusively in English, which is the key to a lucrative career in the current context", she emphasised.

The little ones eagerly look forward to their computer classes, as we saw a group joyously trooping in under the watchful eye of a teacher.

The Sri Lankan journalists also visited the IFCAI University Press Publications, which publishes a series of professional books on accounting, banking, insurance, finance, marketing, HRM, IT, management and allied areas.

"Our focus is on emerging and frontier themes", says Executive Director, Ch Rajeshwer.

Interaction with senior officials of MARCH Market Research and CYGNUS Economic and Business Research, ICFAI Institute of Science and Technology and the Institute of Chartered Financial Analysts of India were also a productive experience.

"We are actively looking at student exchange programmes between India and Sri Lanka", said ICFAI University’s Vice President, Sanjay Ramchandani, at a lunch hosted in honour of the visiting Sri Lankan media delegates, at the five-star Sheraton Hotel in Hyderabad.

He expressed optimism of expanding the university’s Sri Lankan operations to Kandy and Galle after ICFAI Education Lanka, which opened last October, stabilises itself.

"We are also assessing the potential for other courses in Sri Lanka".

With the one-year Certified Investment Programme next in line, ICFAI is planning to add value by offering banking and insurance diploma programmes in Colombo, Ramchandani noted.

Members of the Hyderabad Press accorded a red carpet welcome to the Sri Lankan journalists at the luxurious Taj Residency.

We were presented with bouquets in a warm reception attended by D. Amar, Chairman, Press Academy of Andra Pradesh, K. Srinivas Reddy, the secretary general of the Indian Journalists Union, who was the founder chairman of the Andra Pradesh Press Academy, and by our counterparts in the Hyderabad print and electronic media.

"Who will deliver the Vote of Thanks from your side?", Prasad wanted to know.

There was nothing to disagree on. We had an eloquent orator amongst us. "Lalith Edirisinha", we declared in unison. It was with sheer delight we offered our affable colleague to do the ‘batting’ on our behalf. And he was equally delighted.

Amar, in his speech, invited us to be their guests in Hyderabad again.

Lalith did dwell on this invitation when his turn was up to speak. "I am so grateful for this gracious offer", he continued, "but, the next time, I may not be around".

Our hearts sank. We couldn’t imagine life without Lalith. Surely, he is not that old to make a depressing prediction of that nature, we argued.

"I was chosen by my colleagues to make this speech because I am the oldest of them all", Lalith reasoned.

Anyway, it was a splendid performance, and he received a standing ovation for a job well done.

"It was so touching", Mandana and Lanelle echoed. "Sin aney!"

A grand affair the reception was, with cocktails and dinner thrown in. And the exchange of views and news with our Indian colleagues also proved a useful interaction.

At the invitation of Chairman Amar, we visited the Press Academy of Andra Pradesh, which was established in 1996 with the key objective of promoting high standards in journalism and co-ordinate study and research in this sphere.

"We organise training courses, workshops, seminars and exhibitions in association with working journalists’ organisations and other related professional bodies", Amar explained.

"There is some booze I brought from Sri Lanka", colleague Rodney Martinesz announced when we were returning to Hotel Green Park after a hectic sight-seeing cum shopping spree one breezy evening.

So at 8 pm, the mutually agreed time, the five of us -- that’s minus the two ladies -- trooped into Rodney’s room on the third floor, to enjoy our own ‘Double Distilled’, in Hyderabad.

Unfortunately, Prasad was busy and could not join us, but we did celebrate on another day when our friendly host threw a party in our honour.

Despite travelling far and wide in India many a time over the years, it was a fascinating experience visiting this ancient, captivating City of Pearls, particularly because of the wonderful people we met with and the warm hospitality so generously extended to us.

As Prasad shook hands and bid adieu outside the city’s international airport, amidst the boundless joy of returning home, an inexplicable wave of profound sadness swept through us. And, we felt so helpless at the thought of leaving behind all those humane people who made our stay a memorable one.

"Sir", somebody called as I turned to leave towards the terminal. It was our chauffer Khan.

"Please do come back", he implored. His sad eyes glazed, as we shook hands again.

And, as I stood for a brief moment to watch his white van disappear into the swelling morning traffic, the inescapable truth that all people laugh and cry in the same language evoked a more poignant meaning in life`85......

Special mention should be made of Lasitha Devendra, Consultant, Development, ICFAI Education Lanka, who shouldered the onerous task of co-ordinating arrangements, keeping in constant touch with us to ensure that everything proceeded smoothly until we reached Hyderabad, and Lalith Fernando, Media Relations Executive, SriLankan Airlines.

(Concluded)

 

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