Weaving a new future

Updated: Mar 26 2006, 05:30am hrs
Moved by the extremely low literacy rates in Rajasthan, particularly amongst girls, William and John Bissel decided to open the Fabindia school in Bali in 1992. The task was daunting because even the parents who could easily afford English medium schools sent only their sons to study. The Annual Survey of Elementary Education conducted by Pratham reports that the drop-out rate in the state still continues to be 70%. Only 5% girls complete their secondary schooling in the central regions of the state. The change may not have been revolutionary, yet this non-profit private school opened by William Bissel, head, Fabindia Group, which is a company marketing handloom home furnishings, has made a difference in this.

Affiliated to CBSE, the Fabindia school and its sister school at Ghanerao, Ankur, have 360 students in all with 19 teachers and three volunteers from United World Colleges. Almost half of the students are girls a feat managed by heavily subsidising their education. Designed by Ravi Kaimel, the school land allocates traditional playground as well as vegetable gardens for students to learn horticulture and good environmental practices.

Bissels idea was to create a prototype school, empowering rural youth from the poor districts to shape their own lives and transform Rajasthan. The students are encouraged to take pride in their rich heritage and work to improve the prospects of their homeland. The school has also helped people overcome their prejudices about caste and economic status. Local business leaders send their children to school to attend classes with tribal children. Charley Todd, trustee, reminisces about the board meetings held under a neem tree. "In its shade with a sense of history around us, we were inspired to what we imagined to be a wide discourse, with occasional slips into the ridiculous, just to be sure it seemed like a real trustee meeting."

The John Bissel Scholars Fund was established in 2000 to support scholarships for girl students. The $37,750 endowment supports the scholarship of over 60 girl students. For six-year-old Simran Soni, a John Bissel scholar, the 15-km long journey from her home in the bright yellow school bus is the high point of her day. Inspired by those who have brought so much into her own life, Soni too aspires to become a teacher. The financial burden may be great despite the scholarship, but for her grandfather the school is the way to realise his dream of making Soni the first graduate in the family.

Her grandfather feels that sending her to Fabindia school has taught her many good things, including spoken English and etiquette, says Jayant Biswas, principal of the school.

Like Soni, every student nurtures a dream. With plans to open more Fabindia schools elsewhere, one can only be sure that there shall be more dreams, more hopes and more successes.