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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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.