A Fighting Chance for the Visually Challenged

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What would you say about a modern-day school that churns out self-empowered, multi-dimensional and sensitive individuals who give back to society? Where progress is led by example and not just exams, where character is as important as curriculum and compassion scores over competition? Where prospective students do not have to wait with their parents in long admission queues, but are embraced as new members of the family without even having to pay a rupee?

If that’s not unreal enough, this school has been providing free housing, food, clothes, vocational training, and formal education — from nursery to post-graduation — to underprivileged, visually challenged and sighted children since 1998.

Also, this free residential school does not receive any financial aid from foreign or government bodies.

It is the belief and intention of the founder, Sri Acharya Rakum, to make people share and be part of the struggle to house, feed, clothe, and educate the 600 children he considers his own.

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         A classroom at the school, with the tree for a pillar and an asbestos roof

Even children from distant villages and tribal areas come here and nobody has ever been turned back. A blackboard outside the school lists the most urgent requirements of the children every day, such as soaps, shampoos, milk, and other daily rations. Rakum says that half of their needs are fulfilled by the kindness of passers-by who respond. The other half is the struggle — the constant challenge of a hand-to-mouth existence.

The Beginning

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The college area of the school. These scantily equipped classrooms have seen extraordinary grit and competence.

Acharya Sri Rakum School for the Blind was founded in Bangalore in June 1998, for children born blind or visually impaired. It began in a small apartment and as word spread, a nearby building was converted into a hostel. Today it has 3 branches across Bangalore, providing quality inclusive education, nutrition and a loving home to 600 visually impaired as well as sighted students.

The founder, Rakum, is a Karate world champion who set a world record back in 1988 by breaking 9 slabs of ice with his forehead. Having a 4-wheeler drive over his chest was one of his daredevil feats. He speaks many languages including Japanese.  Applying his knowledge of naturopathy, he maintains high immunity levels among the children. He also seeks to instil values in the children with his own example. When two elderly women came begging for food one day, the children told them they had no food as they had just finished eating. But Rakum told the children to give them his lunch. Since then, he says, the children are eagerly follow his example of generosity and compassion whenever they see anyone in need.

Who are they helping?

annual_day_4mar12                                         Yes, she’s looking at you

The school works with children from families below the poverty line, and those who have been shunned by their families and denied a childhood. The idea is to give them the opportunity to grow into self-sufficient adults. There are 4 projects run by the school:

  • Pension Scheme for Elderly Women: For women above 65, in 7 slums in Bangalore.
  • Helping Hands Project: Sustaining 300 young widows.
  • Little Friends Project: Encouraging slum children to attend government schools, by providing them school supplies and daily rations if they enroll.
  • Disabled Project: Providing medicines, Braille books, jobs and basic supplies to the physically/visually challenged above the age of 30.

How was the idea implemented?

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The classroom area stands swamped with an afternoon’s rain, while the kids and the in-house pets play ball

Seeing the pain and suffering of so many children moved Rakum to start this noble initiative, giving up his flourishing career in Karate. He says he realised one day that power can be destructive as well as creative, and he felt inspired to choose the latter. Ensuring a life of dignity and self-sufficiency to all its children is the goal of this school.

Extra-curricular activities take on a whole new dimension here. Yoga, Karate and cycling are part of their daily time-table and Saturdays entail cooking, carpentry, basic plumbing and electrical repairs. From class 6 onwards, children are taught to cook. Rakum says that with this culinary training, the children can start their own restaurants and bakeries one day. Once the sighted children turn 18, he ensures they acquire driving licences for both two-wheelers and four-wheelers. Given the extensive Yoga and Karate lessons, they could well teach these anywhere in the world. Many of these children are already skilled Yoga practitioners and even 3rd degree Karate black belt holders.

A big part of the founder’s vision is that these children become civil servants and return to their villages to improve lives there. Children are trained for the Civil Services exams from class 6 onwards.

The Impact So Far

This August, three students wrote the Civil Services Exam. Some of the postgraduate students from the school are now directors and headmasters. The current headmistress of the Indiranagar branch is an ex-student who completed her M.A. and B.Ed degrees from the same school. A sighted child of visually challenged parents recently graduated and wrote the Civil Services Exam. From being abandoned as children to becoming self-sufficient adults, it has been an invaluable journey for thousands of students.

The Challenges

Rakum yearns to provide a bigger, better living space to the children. Right now, it’s a cramped living situation in a dilapidated building, and one bathroom for every eight children. The classrooms are small, with asbestos roofs that cannot even keep out the rain. As a matter of principle, no one is refused admission, even with the limited infrastructure and funds. This makes the accommodation and care of 600 children an even tougher challenge than it already is. The general public’s donations are just about meet their immediate on-going needs. Making it impossible to set aside money as investments that can compound over the years.

Through the street-facing blackboard and Facebook, children convey their urgent requirements. The response has been enough for them to sustain and thrive over the years. But Rakum hopes to see more involvement from the general public. As he rightly points out, these children are society’s responsibility, not just his own. He hopes to pool in enough funds for better classrooms and living spaces.

Future Plans

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From his Japanese martial art days, Rakum draws on his self-belief that he passes on to the children: Roar like a thousand warriors and you can feed a thousand people. He believes there is nothing his students aren’t capable of, if only we as adults can offer them basic necessities and opportunities to grow into self-sufficient adults. He believes in giving the children their own fishing rods, rather than fishing for them, so each of them can go on to help themselves and also others in need.

How You Can Help

To help ease the load on one man and 600 children, donations to the school can be made to this account:

IDBI Bank Indiranagar, Bangalore.

Account no. 202104000009652

IFSC Code: IBKL 0000202

Or through the website www.rakum.org.

Know more about them through their Facebook page or contact Sri Acharya Rakum at rakumrakum@yahoo.com

All donations to Sri Rakum School for the Blind are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act.

 

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