A chance meeting with the manager of Himalaya Public School (HPS) at Chaukori, as he came to drop members of Himalayan Education Foundation (HEF) to Munsiari, proved very valuable to Ola and me. Prakash invited us to visit the school on our way back from Munsiari. It worked well for us as we did not want to make the 12-hr journey at one go. I had also heard a lot about the school, so was curious too.
Chaukori is about 4 hrs by road from Munsiari, at almost the same altitude as Munsiari. But, it was unbearably hot that day because of deliberate forest fires in the area (to clear forests for agricultural land).
At the school, we were given the option to stay in a room or in a cozy tent - what we chose is anybody's guess. I was floored by the hospitality at the school as well as at Prakash's home in Nainital. The respect and love showered on us was overwhelming. It is hard to believe that such wonderful people still exist in today's world.
Prakash's sister Devbala (also the principal of the school) spoke with passion about the school started by her father with the intention of providing good education for rural people so that they could be confident enough to compete with urban children. The school was started in a goshala (cowshed) with classes conducted in the morning the same classrooms turning into dorms in the night.
Over a hearty (and special) meal, Devbala recounted how, before mobile phones became available, they used to travel a few hrs by bus to the nearest telephone booth which may or may not be working. Prakash shared stories of how people came forward to help in various ways, the recent addition being a computer lab set up by one such group of people. Another person, Jayant, through the Himalayan Education Foundation supports schools and school children in the remote villages of the Indian Himalayas. The Himalayan Public School is one such school. When we visited, a library was being built and I saw carpenters turn into computer students by night. There were no barriers for learning.
We spent the evening with Hemlatha, 12-standard student who has aspirations of becoming a doctor. I liked her for her composure and the way she spoke in simple but flawless English. She is one of the beneficiaries of the Himalayan Education Foundation.
At the time of leaving, I asked Prakash as to how I could return his favour (for dropping us to Almora and hosting us at his school as well as at his home). He jokingly said that I need to pay 200 USD. But, I decided to take it seriously. So, this is a request to my friends, especially those in the US, to help me in passing on the favour to some needy student.
The cost of sponsoring one non-residential student in first grade is approximately Rs. 5000 per year, going upto Rs. 11,000 for a student in 12th grade. The fees for residential students starts from Rs. 36,200 per year. Details are available on the website of HEF and HPS.
Even as I write this, I wonder how this write-up will help in reaching out to thousands of students in need. Then, I remember the story of the starfish wherein a little boy makes a world of difference to the one starfish that he throws back into the ocean. So, even if one person reaches out to one student, it is worth the effort putting together all these words.
Camera courtesy: Ola Da