Over Winter Break, I traveled to India and had an opportunity to visit a residential/boarding educational center, shelter, and life skill development center in Bengaluru, India — Nisarga Grama School (a project of Sparsha Trust). I also met its incredible founder, Mr. R. Gopinath (pictured below, center).

This school is not like any other school: it is a boarding school for children who were abused and abandoned, saved from becoming street beggars; orphaned kids with no adult supervision; and young girls rescued from getting married to older men; and much more.

When I first stepped onto the premises, I saw kids sitting on the floor in circles, studying and doing their homework. There were about 160 students at this school (their goal, at full capacity, is to provide services for 500 children). I was both sad and happy to meet these kids — sad because I knew that these children had no family of their own, and happy to see that they had an adult in their life to guide them. Their beautiful smiles as they came up to say hi to us were genuine and warm. I was amazed by their friendliness and quest for knowledge.

A small group of students volunteered to give us a tour of the building, one of three. One building had few classrooms, where students completed their homework and studied for their tests and exams. Another building was a dining hall and kitchen, and the last one was the students’ dormitory.

Children here attend a nearby school run by the local government. The government-run schools are not on par with private schools. I believe that some of these schools do not have the basic supplies to teach or even have bathroom facilities. In spite of these hardships, these children are still eager to attend and learn. They are motivated to do well and are enthusiastic about learning.

Last year, Kanaka, a resident from this school was invited by The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to speak about child rights and the living conditions of children in slum areas. Most of the children here are earning excellent scores in their 10th grade final exams, which are a huge marker in the Indian school system. The grades earned in 10th grade are a deciding factor for higher education. After speaking with few of the students, I happily realized that they all had great ambitions. One wanted to go on to become a fashion designer, another wanted to become a singer, and another a doctor.

The story of this organization’s founder and how it was founded is remarkable. Mr. Gopinath is the founder of Sparsha Trust. As a child, he was forced to work and not attend school because his single parent could not afford to send him. His mother, along with his siblings, were all bonded labors. From what I remember him saying, they had to clean cowsheds and work on farms for daily meals.

His alcoholic father abandoned them and moved away when Gopinath was very young. Gopinath’s love for knowledge and quest for learning helped him earn a master’s degree in social work and later start this project. His mission is to help as many children as he can and allow them to lead a normal life. Today, Gopinath has rescued about 350 children and with the help of contributions coming in from companies and individuals, he is able to run this project efficiently.

These experiences make me realize how fortunate we are to be born into families who care for us and give us food, shelter, and a great education. In return, we all can do a little to help make this world a better place for tomorrow’s citizens.

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