Volunteer teachers redefining education at a rural school in once militancy-hit Doda

Given the remote location of this village of about 1,600 residents and its troubled past, finding regular teachers was not easy.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2017 16:08 IST
Gulam Jeelani
Gulam Jeelani
Volunteer teachers,Doda,Rural schools
Haji Public School is located in Breswana village of Doda district, where almost every household was hit by militancy till 2004.(HT Photo)

Karishma Prakash, 25, quit her engineering job in Bengaluru and Sanu Khan, 30, took a sabbatical from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) in Thiruvananthapuram. Both volunteer as teachers at the Haji Public School in Breswana village of Doda – a district 160 km northeast of Jammu that was once a hub of militancy.

“I feel people are too scared to come here and there is a necessity to teach the students here more than any other normal city in India,” says Karishma, on her second 3-month stint in over a year.

Given the remote location of this village of about 1,600 residents and its troubled past, finding regular teachers was not easy for Sabbah Haji, 35, who runs the school. So she relies on volunteers from across the world, like Karishma and Sanu, who along with a group of locals, teach 400 children up to Class 8 -- mostly first-generation learners -- to think, to question and stay abreast of the world around them.

“Coming here has been an eye-opening experience. The children despite the different kind of hardship they face are tremendously bright,” says Dhamini Ratnam, 33, who quit her journalism job in Mumbai to teach class 7 students here.

Born and brought up in Dubai, Sabbah Haji returned to her native village in 2008 and decided to run the school in a bid to help the children of her ancestral place. (HT)

Situated at 7,500 ft above sea level, Breswana, was one of the many villages of Doda where almost every household was hit by militancy till 2004. The only government school, burnt down in 1992 and reconstructed in 2005, has just 150 students and 10 teachers. Militants used the terrain to engage in a guerrilla battle with the security forces. In 2008, the region was again in news due to unrest over the Amarnath land row.

However, set up a year later, the school is redefining education in a village where not more than 1% residents are educated beyond class 10th.

“We are taught everything about the world,” says Yasir, 13, in fluent English. The son of a carpenter, Yasir writes poems in English and Urdu. His mother tongue is Kashmiri. A class 8 student, Humaira Banu can read out the “Quality of Mercy” quote in William Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice in one go. She lost her father a few years ago.

Delhi-based volunteer, Jaishish Kaushik, 25, was left in a quandary when class 7 girls wanted to know during a Geography class: “Why do only men ride horses in Doda, why not women?” Hyderabad-based Bharat Merugu was made to dance to “Shape of You” song on his last day at the school while Sanu was flooded with farewell messages from class 1 kids the day she left.

Born and brought up in Dubai, Sabbah did her higher education in Bengaluru where she later worked as a content editor. She returned to her native Breswana village in 2008 soon after the Amarnath land row led to unrest. Financed by her NRI uncle, the school started in 2009 with 30 kindergarten kids.

Today, at least 20 families from far away villages have relocated to Breswana to educate their kids. This, when the nearest motorable road is 8 km away.

“I decided to do something to give back to my ancestral village after my relatives were affected in the riots after Amarnath land row,” says Sabbah who plans to make it a higher secondary, and eventually a college, in the years to come.

First Published: Sep 24, 2017 07:51 IST