Volume 6 - Issue 04
APRIL - 2008
The Divine Oyster in Otteri
The atmosphere was electric. The occasion - grand, and the milieu – the best indoor stadium in New Delhi, the capital of India. While the rest of the city was slowly slipping into slumber after the day’s toil, the Talkatora Stadium was ecstatically abuzz with frenzied activity. A great spectacle was about to unfold. It was past nine on that momentous night of February 11, 2006, and the over four hundred thousand music lovers filled every inch of space; the cool air was laden with a sense of exhilaration and excitement, and at the same time, eager expectation.
The grand finale of the National Talent Hunt for young vocalists, organized by the internationally renowned Sangam Kala Group was striding along, and the audience’s anticipation had indeed hit a high note. They reveled and rejoiced, screamed and shouted, as the stadium reverberated with the scintillating songs of the budding artists. Suddenly, the assembly fell silent. In fact, silence gripped the whole ambience; but for one melodious voice.
A frail and simple-looking girl had begun her devotional rendering Dayaku Premaku Roopu Dalchina Daivama, Sai Daivama …. in Telugu. The experience was out of the ordinary. Mesmerised by the melody, and overwhelmed with the soulful emotion that exuded from the little performer, the spectators became still and speechless. For the next ten minutes, an unusual serenity seemed to envelope their being.
It touched the inner core of every heart, including the highly accomplished judges from tinsel town. When the results were announced, little Jayalakshmi, became a national star. She stood second in that prestigious competition and instantly the spotlight was turned on a little girl with a mighty talent, who suddenly transformed into the cynosure of everyone’s eyes, especially the professionals from the music industry.
'Ten-year old from Rural Tamil Nadu takes Delhi ’s Music Mandarins by Storm'
Sounds like a headline from a tabloid, or a fictitious fairy tale, isn’t it? But it is as real as the story that went into making of a national star out of a poor village girl.
Remarkably, just a year earlier, little Jayalakshmi did not even know that she had it in her to sing! Her electrifying performance at the Talkatora Stadium in the nation’s capital was the very first time in her young life that Jaya had sung a solo in front of such a large gathering. Her earlier experience had been limited to singing as part of a group.
If the ignorance of her latent talent is surprising, her home situation is simply shocking, yet it is typical of millions of disadvantaged children in developing countries.
Two hours prior to leaving her home on the journey to New Delhi and stardom, little Jaya did not even have a decent pair of slippers or a presentable dress to wear, for such luxuries were unthinkable for her illiterate father, who earlier drove a truck and now, as a result of a serious injury, drives an auto-rickshaw, and struggles every single day to provide two square meals to his three daughters. The family’s home is a tiny hut in the poverty ridden Manivakkam village, in the outskirts of the city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras ) in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu!
Heartwarming Spirit of Camaraderie
Upon hearing the news of Jaya’s imminent departure to Delhi, to participate in the talent hunt, her classmates spontaneously and immediately offered her their best dresses, slippers and other accessories for use. Her school Principal procured her travel tickets and made all other arrangements, while the Vice Principal, Ms. Vasumathi, personally accompanied her to New Delhi, given that Jaya’s parents had neither any clue about their child’s talent, nor the enormous significance of the competition, and certainly no resources or inclination to send her so far.
A Lotus Blooms in the Murky Waters
When Jaya returned triumphant, the children made huge banners to welcome her, while all her teachers voluntarily contributed to present her with a gold ring. The parents of Jaya, in awe and wonder at the sudden turn of events, had no words to say, except to express their gratitude. “Whatever good has happened in our life, it is because of the School! Two of my daughters are able to study there, because the School has arranged for scholarships. My daughter has won many prizes, but I have no clue. It is all due to the loving teachers of the School.”
Today, Jayalaksmi is a rising star, an idol for her friends, pride of her parents, and more importantly, an ideal for society. In spite of their poverty, she exudes a remarkable sense of personal dignity and self-confidence, rather refreshing for her age, as she asserts, “I will never sing cheap songs for money; I will sing only those who extol the Lord. I am what I am because of my school and my dear teachers. I will walk on the path they have shown me.”
Rural Uplift through Spiritual Activism
Jaya is just one of the many dust-to-diamond dramas that unfold almost routinely within the sacred precincts of Sri Vishwa Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School (SVVMHS), located in a [formerly] notorious pocket, on the outskirts of Chennai where it is emerging as a lighthouse of values-based learning. An example of social uplift through education, and inspired solely by the spiritual activism exemplified by Bhagavan Baba, the school has its genesis in His message of personal salvation through selfless service to those in need.
From Poverty to Prosperity and an Integrated Personality
Krishna Chaitanya, who joined the school in Kindergarten, belongs to a nomadic tribe community. His father, a farmer from the state of Maharashtra admitted his son to SVVMHS after coming to know about the school from a friend. Today Krishna is pursuing Chartered Accountancy, the elitist degree in the field of commerce in India.
As if his professional success is not enough, as a student, Krishna consistently won the first prize in the Gita Recital competition organized by the Chinmaya Mission of Chennai throughout, from his VI to XII grade. To maintain this victory, he competed against at least one hundred thousand student contestants in this competition every year.
Keeping up with the inspiration behind the Sathya Sai Education model, Krishna excelled not only in his mental and spiritual development, but also in physical accomplishments. He has a Black Belt in Karate, which he learnt at the school too.
Today, he says, “As tiny tots we used to memorise Baba’s sayings blindly. But now, when I am caught up in trying situations, I remember these words of assurance, and I realize I have greater mental equipoise than any of my class mates. I can never forget one fact - the world is a reflection, reaction and resound of our own selves. This has brought me to where I am despite my background.”
Oasis in Otteri – A Miracle of Divine Motivation
Transforming the lives of the little hearts, hardened by circumstances, social neglect and abject poverty in the rural areas, by instilling in them courage and confidence first, and then, imparting a value-oriented education, is the mission of the Sri Vishwa Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School, run by none other than former girl students of the Sri Sathya Sai University.
This school, located 35 kms south of Chennai, in Otteri (a small village near Vandalur) has today become a beacon of hope and happiness for the beleaguered villagers, and at the same time, an ideal and a challenge for the schools in the city of Chennai. The journey this far has been no walk in the park, rather, it has been literally a walk on sharp rocks, big boulders and terrible terrain.
A Family’s Crusade to Serve their Mentor
When the school was started in 1986 by Mr. S. V. Rajagopalan, an ardent devotee of Sai who gave up his job at an international bank to serve in a rural area, the village had no roads, only a muddy footpath. The village folk had little or no food, the very concept of cleanliness was alien to them, violence was rampant, and education, for them, was anathema, meant only for the affluent.
Nothing however deterred Mr. Rajagopalan, because apart from the support of his wife and four devoted daughters, he had one another asset in abundance – His Grace. In fact, it was Swami Himself who had inspired and initiated the whole endeavour.
Parting Divine Words Define Life’s Mission
When his third daughter, Ms. S. V. Mala completed her education at the Anantapur Campus of the Sri Sathya Sai University, in 1986, Swami blessed the outgoing students with an interview, and said, “Go and serve in the villages.” Taking the Divine Chancellor’s parting words straight to heart, the family made it their life’s personal mission to live it out in thought, word and deed.
The dedicated sisters, along with their father, chose Otteri as their spot of loving service, as three years earlier, Swami had personally visited the adjoining Mannivakkam village. The family realized that through this project, the population of that blessed village could benefit immensely.
Where There Is a Will, There Is a Divine Way
For starters, the family had neither any resources nor available space. But their determination to defy all odds and achieve their dream of expressing their gratitude to their life’s inspiration, their Divine Master, Bhagavan Baba, was unmistakable. The bleak prospects did not deter them.
Taking their first step, all they could see around the village was dilapidated huts of various sizes. The family’s journey of a thousand mile began with the proverbial first step when they realised that they needed to pray – a lot. And right from the start, they found the Divine making insurmountable obstacles insignificant.
Was it a Coincidence? No, it’s Saincidence!
Within a few days they met a gentleman, Mr. Sripathi Rao, who too, incidentally, had resolved to work in that village and even had a house – the only semi-concrete house in the whole area. “The main idea of owning that house in the village was to serve the villages,” recalls Mr. Sripathi Rao.
“When I first came in 1980, there was no electricity, transport or roads to this area, let alone proper schools. Later, a few schools did start in the vicinity, but they were all commercial in their approach. Therefore, when I met the dedicated family of the late Mr. S. V. Rajagopalan and heard about their noble plans of a service-oriented school, I intuitively knew it was God’s Will at work. And so, I instantly offered my house to start the school.”
That is how SVVMHSS began with five grades, four classrooms and 54 students in the first year.
Unstinted Perseverance and Unconditional Love – the Success Mantras
Armed with a prayer on their lips and their Divine Lord’s counsel to serve in the villages, the late Mr. S.V. Rajagopalan’s two daughters, Ms. S. V. Radha and Ms. S. V. Mala, traveled 10 kilometers, out of which 2 kilometers was an arduous trek through muddy roads, everyday to open the school at 8 am in the morning.
During the rainy season, these two kilometers would be a frightening ordeal with, at times, knee deep water infested with snakes and insects to navigate through. Add to this the zero inclination of the villagers to send their children to school, as it meant fewer hands to work at home or in the fields. Even if they came, the children’s health conditions, hygiene and overall cleanliness were appalling.
The teachers spent most of their energy in health education and creating an environment that made the school enticing enough for the children to return the next day. The challenge for the teachers was to first get the children involved in activities that they enjoyed the most like playing games, gardening, making garlands, etc. More importantly, the teachers gave the students what they lacked the most in their homes – a sense of being wanted, a feeling of recognition and importance – unconditional love and acceptance, as they had experienced from their Divine Chancellor and Lord, Bhagavan Baba.
Slowly, but surely, the children began to realize that their teachers genuinely loved and cared for them. That is how the school took shape in the initial years, and a bond began to develop between the students and the teachers, which later enveloped everybody – parents, supporters, community leaders – into its ambit.
The Divine Endorses the School as His
Meanwhile, by now, one of late Mr. Rajagopalan’s daughters, Ms. S. V. Vijayalakshmi, had joined the Sai School in Ooty. When Swami visited this hill station to give joy to the little children in 1987, she showed Swami a card seeking blessings for their family’s school in Otteri.
“When I held the card,” Ms. S. V. Vijayalakshmi, narrates, “Swami asked, ‘What is this?’ I said, ‘Swami, father has started a school and we need Your Blessings because it is in a village.’
Swami took the card immediately from me, looked at it and said, ‘Why school? It has already become an Anantapur College!’ Then I said, ‘Swami, with Your Blessings, it can become like Anantapur College.’
The next day, Swami called all the teachers of the Ooty School and suddenly started asking me about the school. ‘How many classes are there?’ I said, ‘Swami, 7 classes’ (by then two more classes had been added). ‘No, not Ooty, I am asking about Otteri,’ He said. I submitted again, “Yes Swami, 7 classes in Otteri’.
Then He asked about the strength of the school. I replied, ‘About 260, Swami’. Again, He said, ‘Not Ooty, Otteri’. So, this went on and in the end, He said, ‘Oh, this school and that school are one and the same’ referring to the school in Otteri and the Sai School in Ooty.”
Surmounting Obstacles through Surrender
It was this sweet love and concern of Bhagavan that helped the nascent project overcome all the major challenges in the initial years. Ms. S. V. Mala, the Principal, recalls, “We did not have any resources in the beginning, and financial crunch was a perennial problem.
"But then, we just relied on Him completely. Whenever we needed even a small sum of Rs.1000 to be made available the next day, we just prayed and tried our best. And almost always, at the nick of time, we found the money, help and support. We never stopped any of our planned activities. Swami has always been with us.”
With this confidence in the Divine Will that was directing their pure intentions, the family continued their saga of selfless service. However, working in a rural area known for communal violence and other anti-social activities was not easy. Moreover, there were many governmental regulations to be complied with, which the school found very difficult, given its meager resources.
“I will take care of the school” – Baba
Since its inception, the school had grown every year by adding one extra grade. But in 1987, in face of some seemingly Herculean challenges, the family started doubting its ability to continue the project. It was in this year that Swami lovingly granted them an interview. As soon they went in, the first remark He made was this: “I know how much sacrifice your whole family is doing for the school”. And then referring to the father, He said, “I know, though he appears as if he is not bothered, day in and day out he is thinking about the school, its growth and maintenance. He wants to do more for the welfare of the villagers.” And then suddenly and solemnly, Swami said, “Why fear when I am here”. Not only that He raised His Hand in blessing and reassured them again saying, “I will take care of the school, do not worry. One flower cannot make a garland, nor can one tree make a forest; I will send the people, I will do everything.”
Divine Assurance Dispels Doubts, Emboldens Devotion
It is such potent Divine Assurance that propelled the school to greater heights every year. Tragedy however struck the family in June 1996, when the father Mr. S. V. Rajagopalan, the fulcrum of the devoted and spirited unit, suddenly fell ill, and passed away shortly thereafter. The daughters were devastated. They did not want to live in Chennai anymore. Moreover, getting the governmental recognition to start the 10th grade seemed next to impossible because of the bureaucratic red tape involved.
In a subsequent interview with Swami the following year, they prayed, “Swami, if You bless us, we will offer the school to somebody else, and serve You here in Puttaparthi permanently.” But Swami said, “No, no! That is also My School. Take care of the School on My behalf. I will take care of everything.”
From that day, the sisters have not looked back and continue to uphold the legacy of their late father. They have toiled hard and given their all to the school.
The school has never had any clerical staff. The Principal opens the school every morning, looks after administration, appoints teachers, collects fees, maintains records, as well as teaches the children.
Similarly, the Vice Principal has taught everything from commerce and social science to music, acrobatics, gardening, painting and chanting of shlokas (hymns). There were nine dedicated teachers in the initial years, out of whom three were former Sai students (including the Principal and the Vice Principal), and another two were ardent Sai devotees. The love they showered on the children was what laid the solid foundation of the school.
Power of Love Lifts Students, Families and Community
When the mother of Srutishree, a ten year old student, wanted to discontinue her from SVVMHSS to get her admitted in a posh city school which boasted of big playgrounds and spacious classrooms, her little one cried. When her mother forced her to write the entrance exam for the other school, she submitted an empty answer sheet and returned home.
Today Sruthi is in grade VIII and is the pride of not only SVVMHS, but also of her parents, as she shines in everything she does, be it playing the keyboard, public speaking, dancing, and reciting spiritual verses to academics.
“We do not want the children to be only academically oriented,” says Ms. S. V. Vasumathi, the Vice Principal. “We want them to have an integrated personality, and this can happen when we expose them to various other activities. It is then that their hidden beauty blossoms and their personal growth becomes complete. This is what I personally learnt from the five years that I spent in Swami’s University.”
Replicating their Chancellor’s Model of Integral Education
Ms. Vasumathi graduated from Bhagavan’s University after completing her Masters in Philosophy in 1994, and immediately joined the family’s school to help her elder sisters. Right from the start, it has been the sisters’ endeavour to make their school a replica of Swami’s school in Puttaparthi, however small in scale it may be. Therefore, the emphasis on extra-curricular and spiritual education is as strong as it is on secular subjects.
“Based on Bhagavan Baba’s advice that the End of Education is Character, the aim of our school is values-oriented. But this is not what many think and other schools profess to offer. Our emphasis is on practice, which needs courage,” says the Principal. “Drawing such inner conviction from students has to be based on a spiritual approach. Again we do not here refer to meditation and such other spiritual practices. Spirituality, for us, means instilling complete faith in God. From such unshakable faith arises self-confidence. We begin the whole process with small steps like devotional singing, verses from the Gita, Quran and other holy scriptures. Essentially, we tune their mind to God, and after that He takes over.”
Alumni’s Greatest Take Away – Priceless Life Lessons
It is for this reason that prayer and singing are an integral part of the school. Sharath, who is currently pursuing his MBA at Hyderabad, after completing his XII grade in SVVMHS, says, “The concept of praying to God before partaking food was something that struck me when I was a student of SVV. I realized how we tend to take certain basic things so lightly. Now this practice has become an inseparable aspect of my life and I owe it all to SVV.”
Kumaran was studying in the fourth grade when he was taught the Mrityunjaya Mantram (a powerful verse to ward off dangers) in the school. As a matter of habit, whenever he traveled, he first chanted the mantra, and then got onto the vehicle, be it a bus or train or whatever. One day he had to go to a nearby town, Tambaram, and en route, his bus met with an accident. Everyone was injured except Kumaran; he was extremely grateful for the habit that saved him from serious injury. The next day, with excitement and joy, he narrated the whole episode in the school assembly.
In fact, the School begins and ends with prayer. The 20 minute assembly session in the morning has chanting from sacred texts, followed by news, quizzes and thought for the day. And if it is any student’s Birthday, the entire gathering sings and wishes “Happy Birthday”, while a few come on the stage and enumerate that student’s good qualities.
After every class, the children chant the sacred hymn “Loka Samastha Sukhino Bavantu” which means, “Let all beings everywhere be happy.”
SVV Students – Agents of a Silent Revolution
The students of the school have become its ambassadors of peace, goodwill and communal harmony. Twenty five percent of them are from a minority community, and whenever communal tension rose, it is these young leaders from the school who diffused the situation by appealing to their parents’ good sense, thereby calming the passions on both sides. Many have dissuaded their families from consuming non-vegetarian food and making poor and unhealthy lifestyle choices.
Mr. Sitaram Yadav, a building contractor, and the father of Vipin and Harsha who joined SVV in 2001, says, “We were in the habit of eating non-vegetarian food. But once my children were exposed to the value education imparted at the School, they decided to give up eating anything that is non-vegetarian. Seeing their steadfastness, I too resolved to become a vegetarian.”
There is a community, belonging to a particular caste in that region, who are used to taking alcohol. The parents of these families even encourage their young children to drink along with them everyday. Noticing the deteriorating effect this deadly habit was having on the physical and mental faculties of these children, the teachers of the School made many visits to the homes of these families and convinced the elders to give up this unhealthy habit.
Today, this community had completely given up drinking liquor. Similarly, when Mr. Arumugam and Mr. Palani, who are illiterate and belong to the scheduled caste community, heard their children, Vanitha and Nithyakalyani, speak English with confidence, they were thrilled. The proud fathers decided to accede to their daughters’ requests and gave up consuming alcohol and gambling.
“In a society which is writ with crime, the students of SVV are like shining stars,” says Mr. M. Loganathan, the President of Mannivakkam Panchayat, the local Government. “The personal care and concern shown on every student is the hallmark of SVV,” he adds, and says emphatically, “These students are truly the hope for a better future.”
While bringing about all these amazing transformations of heart among family members and others in the society, the students are also unlocking their own hidden talents in the process.
A decade ago, Mohan Krishna was a carefree child who whiled away his time playing village games and doing silly things. Today, he is a graduate and also a certified Radio Artist at the All India Radio. In fact, he was awarded the “Best Percussion Player in Chennai City ” in 2003. Going down memory lane, he nostalgically says, “I cannot forget the school life at SVV and my dear teachers. They took care of me so lovingly, spotted my talent and shaped my skills.
"Throughout my education at the school they arranged for scholarships, and I am proud to say that I am still continuing my education in another college because of this scholarship.
"Imagine that! I scored 98% in main subjects in my XII grade! It was because of the loving care of the Principal and the Vice-Principal. It gives me so much satisfaction to visit the school even now, and offer my services in whatever capacity. I have coached another student - Himamahesh, who is currently in the school, on a percussion instrument called Dholki, and I am so grateful for the opportunity.”
“Our students are our strength,” says Ms. S. V. Vasumathi, the Vice Principal. “They are willing to take up any activity of the school. We are extremely satisfied that we were able to instill in them the power of positive thinking and the confidence to contribute to the welfare of others.”
Ms. K. P. Ashitha, another alumna of the school, who is currently working in the Electricity Board of the Government of Tamil Nadu, says, “The activity I enjoyed the most while in the school was Narayana Seva, wherein every Thursday, each class collected whatever they could, be it rice, vegetables or whatever, and then we packed them neatly and distributed to the poor in the evening.
"This left a deep impression on me, and now apart from visiting the school to coach the children on shlokas, which I am good at, I also take time out and serve the handicapped in my vicinity. This gives me immense satisfaction.”
Swami says, a person without compassion ceases to be a human being, and in SVV today this salient virtue, inherent in every human heart is gently prodded forth in the students at a tender age. A classic example is the story of Kripa and Parveen.
Pure Love Overcomes Prejudice
While Kripa was from a relatively affluent family, Parveen’s parents found it difficult to pay the very nominal fees that SVV charges. The situation compelled them to withdraw her from SVV and admit her in the government school, which was free, but the quality of education there was very poor. Both the girls were good in academics, and when Kripa heard of Parveen’s plight, she persuaded her parents to sponsor her classmate. The parents were touched by the loving sentiment of their child. She was more open-minded than them. Being an orthodox Brahmin family, it took the parents a while to shed their prejudices and offer their hand in help to a Muslim girl. More than what it has done to the students, the transformation of the parents is more precious, feel the school teachers.
Now, Kripa’s parents are staunch supporters of the school. Her father, Mr. Ramesh, says, “What attracts me about this school is the selfless dedication of the teachers and their commitment to develop the child in all spheres. The students are given a free hand, and I like the way they are brought up with more devotion in their hearts, especially in these times when mental peace is not available anywhere, but within you. These little children are blessed to realize this very early in their life. This purity and sanctity in their thought process comes because of devotion.
“I first became aware of this school when I had gone to watch a Bhagavad Gita chanting competition held by Chinmaya Mission four years ago. There I saw tiny tots of 3 rd and 4 th grade chanting the shlokas so beautifully. I knew it was no mean achievement to train the playful minds of kids to that level of perfection. Moreover, the discipline and mannerism of these children was exemplary. They listened to their teachers with reverence.
"I wanted to know more about these children and the people behind their fantastic achievement. Once I discovered SVV, I immediately transferred my daughter to this school. She is in Xth grade now and will write the Board Exams, but I am not even a least bit concerned, given the matchless dedication of the teachers of the School.
"My daughter has won a lot of awards and cups too in vocal music, dance, bhajans, shloka recitation, etc. for herself and the school. In fact, it has almost become a practice for the students of this school to win prizes whenever they participate in the city.”
Awards and Accolades Galore
One can realise this by stepping into the guest room of the school which overflows with awards and shields. Since the inception of the competitions, the school has been winning first prize in the devotional songs competition organised by Ramana Kendra and Amrutha Vidyalaya. In fact, the students were given a free trip to Tiruvannamalai, Tiruchuzi and Rajapalayam for their outstanding achievements. Continuously, they have won winners and runners in Patriotic song competitions organized by Bharath Vikas Parishad, Crescent School, Celebrate India and various other organizations. Whenever any competition was announced by Sri Suprabhatha Sabha, TTD, Bhakthaswaraa Bhajan Mandali, Dutta Peetham, etc. the school returned with laurels.
The prizes included for events like painting, religious and general quiz competition, dance, oratory, charades, rangoli to yoga and karate. In fact, the students have been invited to perform and give concerts at reputed assemblies like TTD, Ram Samaj, Thiruvannamalai and so on. And the School’s Band has been invited by other organizations to play on important occasions presided by the President of India and Chief Ministers.
“The fame of SVV has spread far and wide and is much talked about in Chennai city. I am proud that the academic standards and facilities offered here are on par or even better than the city schools. This School is, in fact, a boon to the society,” says Mr. Aramudhan, the President of the Vandular Panchayat, which is local government body in Vandalur, the area in which the School is located.
Values without Borders
Despite the disadvantages of challenging home environments, low or no literacy of many parents and the multi-faith student body, the teachers strive to draw out from within their pupils the universal values common to all races, religions and civilized societies. The universality of Sri Sathya Sai Baba’s teaching comes through loud and clear in the whole-hearted participation by its entire student body in various forums where they shine with the added luster of the human values that form the core of their education program. An interesting fact about the laurels of this school’s students is that many times the prizes in Gita chanting and shloka recitation competitions have been won by Muslim boys and girls studying in the school.
“SVV is not a school, but a temple” – Mr. C. E. Parmeshwaran
Mr. C. E. Parameshwaran, a senior member of the Chinmaya Mission, says, “Whenever the students of SVV enter a competition, they set high standards, and it becomes mandatory for the other top city schools to cope up and raise themselves to that level.
"SVV is, truly, not a school but a temple. Every year I bring new set of members to this School to conduct the competition, so that they too get the opportunity to experience the joy of listening to the Divine Gita chanting done by these village children.”
If this is what attracted the attention of a spiritual organisation to the School, for the staff of Accenture, a global software and management consulting company, it was just the ambience. “The calm atmosphere and good vibrations here is so relaxing. It relieves you from your tensions and worries,” they said.
When they watched the tremendous confidence of the children to stage a small cultural programme in very short notice, and heard them speak immaculate English, they were in for a surprise.
All the extra curricular activities of the School from shloka recitation to carnatic music, classical dance to learning karate, painting to playing musical instruments, and so on, are usually reserved for the last session of the day. Many children willingly stay back after school hours to practice their fine art, as in their homes they neither the facilities nor the space or ambience to nurture their talents. The teachers keep the School open till 8 or 9 pm almost every day to assist and encourage their spirited wards.
Excellent Academic Record
None of this has been achieved at the cost of academics. Kripa’s father says, “It may be easy for schools in the urban areas to achieve hundred percent results where generally the knowledge level of both the parents and the students are supposed to be higher. In spite of being in a rural area, SVV has been able to produce consistent results. In the recently held XII grade exams conducted by the Board, they attained 100% pass rate.” In fact, in the last six years, no student has failed to clear the X and XII grade tests. In 2006, one third of the students secured 85% and nearly all students of XII secured 1 st class (above 60%). For the past five years, the School has been awarded a certificate of recognition from the Government for achieving cent percent result in Higher Secondary Board Examination.
The School's Formidable Feature - Discipline
“You don’t find this type of a school anywhere in the city,” says Mr. Jayakumar, the parent of Divya, who is now in IX grade. “Most city schools are not able to compete with this school….Though it mainly caters to the lower middle class and the bottom most strata of society, its students invariably win prizes in every inter-school competition.
"This has actually caused a stir in many. But what has impressed me the greatest about this school is the discipline. And also, the noble objective of serving rural masses, inspired by Sathya Sai Baba. There is never an element of profit, it is selfless service done with love. And I think it is this unstinted dedication of the Principal and the teachers that has made all the difference.”
Satisfaction of Selfless Service - The Key Driver
In SVV, you see indefatigable commitment in every staff member right from the highest to the lowest. Mr. Sripathi Rao, who initially offered his land to start the school, later applied for early retirement from the Postal Department in 1998, and since then has been serving in the school looking after the finances and other administrative work. “I find hundred percent satisfaction here. We always talk only about Swami or the School,” he says brimming with happiness and contentment. Even the elderly lady who has been the school’s sweeper since its inception, says, “Both of my sons have studied here. As long as I am alive, I will serve only in this school.”
The sincerity of the teaching staff is unparalleled. The engagement ceremony of Ms. Malathi, who teaches Grade XII chemistry, happened to fall on the same day her students had practical exams conducted by the Board. Without a second thought, she accompanied her pupils to their examination location. She says, “When I am sincere, I get a lot of satisfaction. To take up one thing at a time and do it perfectly is what I have learnt in this school.”
Another teacher, Mrs. Rukmini, who has worked in some of the leading schools in Chennai City, says, “My career as a teacher, began only here and will find its culmination too here. I am aware of the big difference we bring out in the lives of these poor children who have nothing to inspire or enthuse them in their homes. This job has given me tremendous sense of fulfillment.”
Similarly, Mrs. Vijayalakshmi, who has served the school for nearly 10 years now, says, “The sisterly feeling among the staff members and the innocent love of the village children is no match for the salary other institutions offer.”
If the school today has 950 students, 25 rooms, three floors of four separate concrete blocks, one each for Kindergarten, Primary, High School and Higher Secondary students, a full fledged computer lab, a big playground, two buses, two vans, or is able to conduct ‘smart classes’ with the aid of videos, animations and captivating graphics by empowering teachers with technology inside the classrooms, it is because of this single virtue of dedication and faith in the Almighty.
The students too know that it is the Blessings of the Bhagavan Baba alone which has made their school so unique and exquisite compared to other schools. This is the reason why every year they celebrate November 23, the Birthday of Bhagavan Baba, as Children’s Day with great fervour and joy. They decorate their classrooms, present music and dance, and organize fun games, while the teachers gift each one with presents. The Divine is celebrated all throughout the year, be it Dasara and Krishna Janmastami or Christmas and Ramzan.
Divine Grace Soothes Growing Pains
In 1996, when the construction of a new building became unavoidable, the school did not mind taking loans from well-wishers and friends to go ahead with their plans. Three years later, in 1999, the Principal and the Vice-Principal decided to upgrade their school to Higher Secondary Level by starting the XI grade. Despite their best efforts they were unable to get permission from the relevant government authority. Finally, they prayed to Swami and sought an appointment with a close aide of the then Education Minister. Recalling that day, Ms. S. V. Vasumathi, narrates, “We were highly tensed as we entered his chamber, as it was our last hope, and the academic year was drawing to a close.
"But we were in for a pleasant surprise! We saw a picture of Swami on his desk. That gave us confidence to speak out and explain our predicament. The official was very eager to see to it that the formalities were completed as soon as possible as it was ‘Swami’s School’. And we did not have to pay any amount to anybody. We knew Swami was at work.”
Study to be Steady, says Sai
At no point in time did the Lord take His Loving Gaze off from the school. In 2004, Swami blessed the participant-teachers of an EHV training programme organized in Anantapur, with an interview in Puttaparthi. Ms. S. V. Vasumathi, who was part of the group who attended the course, took the opportunity to present her problem to Swami. She said, “Swami, the students are still not up to the mark academically.” Then, Swami asked, “Why should one study?” Vasumathi was silent. The Lord continued, “One should study to be steady. They are all good children. Do not worry. They will do well in academics too.” Ever since the day of the Divine Pronouncement, the school has been scoring hundred percent results continuously.
National Award for Tireless Selfless Service
One of the most prestigious recognitions came to the school in 2003 when it was conferred with the national Manava Seva Samvardhini Award instituted for enterprising women from all over India. The Vice Principal of the school received this award from the Governors of Tamil Nadu and Maharastra at a grand function organized in the Shanmukhananda Hall, Mumbai. The citation said:
This, surely, was an amazing recognition of their untiring selfless service. But, for the teachers of the School, a smile or a word from their Beloved Swami is all that matters.
The Lord’s Sweet Concern
In fact, as recent as January 2007, when the school teachers offered a card to Swami praying for His Blessings during His visit to Chennai, Swami looked at them and quipped, “Manivakkam School? Should I come there right now?” That is how much the Lord loves the School and its dedicated teachers, proving that He never forgets anybody, especially if one has dedicated one’s life completely for His Work. More recently, He gave them yet another reassurance of His love for their efforts to live life in the light of His Message and Example.
“You do My work, I will take care of yours” – Baba
Out of the many plays submitted by the various Sai centres and groups across the state of Tamil Nadu, the drama proposed by this School, has been selected for staging in the Divine Presence of Bhagavan Baba on Tamil New Year Day, 2008. The students are no doubt ecstatic and the teachers see it as another sign of His Amazing Grace upon His school! Adding to their joy of being chosen amidst such stiff competition, the Lord ensured that the school received the necessary support just in time to cover the expenses for the sets, costumes and other preparations necessary for the drama, leaving their cup of joy overflowing!
The budding and blossoming of the school is a story akin to the growth and prosperity of Puttaparthi itself. Both started in rural areas and have made huge differences in the lives of the village folk, while drawing the attention of the international community. The process has been gradual and steady – at God’s pace.
SVVMHS – A Grand Mission in Making
The mystery of the Divine Master-plan is hard to comprehend. Who knows, just as Swami had mentioned in their first interaction, the Sri Vishwa Vidyalaya Matriculation Higher Secondary School may one day grow into the Sri Vishwa Vidyalaya College, and maybe even graduate into a University. Incidentally, the literal translation of the Sanskrit words ‘Vishwa Vidyalaya’, is University. It will be a University where devotion and love will be the underlying principle behind every activity and endeavor, just like the Sri Sathya Sai University. With the products of the Divine University as the chosen instruments of change, even the sky is not the limit!
- Bishu Prusty
Dear Reader, how did you like this story? Was it inspiring? Did it help you in anyway? Would you like more such stories based on Sai Education Mission or the work being done by Sai students? Please write to us at [email protected] Thank you very much for your time.
Vol 6 Issue 04 - APRIL 2008
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