Ever visited a BBMP school? Or met children studying in one?
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When I first heard of it, I immediately visualized a dilapidated building with a loud bell and boisterous children. But this one was different. Thanks to its proactive and progressive Headmaster of four years, Mr. Balappa and his committed staff, the BBMP Girls High school in Bharathi Nagar has 251 enthusiastic students in classes VIII – X presently. Located at the intersection of Thimmaiah Road and St. John’s Road (near Coles Park), most of its students are Urdu speakers who commute long distances. Almost all hail from very low income families and some are orphans whose only wholesome meal is the one at school!
Dressed in their brightly coloured uniforms (provided by the BBMP), these girls who love working on computers and try hard to speak in English are keen on studying further. Their smiles hardly betray their daily challenges and the threat of dropout due to early marriage. Shaista, a fearless speaker seems like a born leader while Farida is ready to sing if Ameena stands by her.
Apart from personally encouraging the children, the school administration and teachers go beyond the call of duty to attract students. They distribute flyers in English and Urdu highlighting the school’s facilities and activities, strive to obtain financial support from the community for the extremely marginalized children like Saba and Ayesha and incentives for achievers and organize academic tutoring and conversational English sessions after school and during holidays. They also monitor the children’s well being regularly and contact their families if they are absent for more than 2 consecutive days.
The teachers’ interest in the girls’ development and welfare was evident from their energetic participation in a recent workshop on life skills and adolescent health education for teachers of government and aided schools in Bangalore, organized by INSA-India (it was at this programme that Lakshmi Oomanakuttan, one of the INSA trainers introduced me to Mr. Balappa and a part of his dedicated team and later accompanied me to the school.)
In addition to this, the Headmaster personally follows up with relevant government authorities for enhancing the school’s infrastructure and has successfully initiated construction of additional class rooms and restrooms. Realizing that the latter are critical for continued enrolment and attendance of adolescent girls, he is ensuring that adequate and hygienic amenities are available. Importantly, he invites open discussions with the children on their emotional and physiological vulnerabilities and suggestions to mitigate associated risks. Further, he welcomes volunteers to mentor the girls or organize interesting activities for them.
In my 2 brief visits to the school over the last fortnight, the positive impact that teachers like Mr. Balappa, Ms. Sapna and Mr. Vivek are having on their students and the mutual respect and gratitude that they share is very obvious. To say that it has rekindled some of my faith and hope in the system and humanity is no exaggeration…
Some names have been changed to protect identity