Apna Vidya Bhavan is a rural school in the lush green town of Wakro in Lohit district of Arunachal Pradesh, which is home to the Mishmi tribe. Tucked in the laps of calm verdant hills, the school immediately appeals as an idyllic seat of learning. With the motto “Grow Wise”, the school was founded as per the desire and vision of His Holiness Shri Shri Swami Anubhavananda Saraswati. Swami Anu, as he is addressed affectionately, strongly felt the need for a good school in this educationally backward area. A school which in the future will turn out to be the very back-bone of a strong, self-reliant, local community. With this vision in mind, the school started functioning on the 16th February, 2003. The Apna Vidya bhavan was inaugurated by a literary luminary Sri Y.D. Thongchi, IAS, the then Deputy Commissioner of Lohit district in the presence of Lt. Col Vinod Kumar Painyuli, Commanding Officer, 110 Field Security and Intelligence unit of the 2 Mountain Division of Indian Army, Er. S.K. Pradhan, Officer Commanding, 1444 BCC of the Border Roads Organization, Sri Babu Taloh, DSP, Arunachal Pradesh Police and a host of village heads and community members.
The school is today managed by Anu Shiksha Seva Trust (ASSET). Chairman of ASSET, an ardent follower of Swamiji explains how the patron saint convinced him to start the school, “He said, if you start the school for rural children I am with you, otherwise also I am with you. It is this unconditional love, which Swamiji imbues that truly became the foundation of the school. And true to his assurance, right from choosing the name of the school to adding various facilities and infrastructure, his help has been pouring ceaselessly and his ever soothing presence felt endlessly by the ASSET and community members”. A member recalls, “The only instruction Swamiji ever gave to us was that before we start serving people, we must cultivate genuine respect in our minds and nurture true love in our hearts for the ones we serve. And this is the sole guiding motto of ASSET- LOVE RESPECT SERVE”.
Starting with just KG classes in a single room and a member’s home serving as the hostel, the school has now flourished into a fine double storied building, with two hostels. Now it holds classes up-till 8th standard. The school enjoys lavish support from the local community, with many local members on its advisory board. The school also receives the patronage of many organizations and well wishers like the Army, Print Media, VT-AWIC Youth Library Network, Border Roads Organization, Arunachal Pradesh Police, Indo Tibetian Border Police, Central Reserve Police Force, the Oil India Limited etc.
The officers of Indian Army are amongst the distinguished friends that the Apnes, children of Apna Vidya Bhavan can boast of. Ever since 2003, when the school was introduced to the Lohit Brigade by Mrs Shraddha Prakash and Brig (Retd) Ajai Prakash, the Army has taken a keen loving interest in the growth of the school and has recognized the relevance of a grounded educational institution such as this. It is worth mentioning here that the Army which is tasked with the responsibility of counter-balancing anti-social elements rampant in the area, always finds time for welfare activities. The Army has contributed by constructing classrooms for the school. They also regularly participate in every occasion of joy and celebration in the school.
Leaders from print media in Arunachal and Assam like The Arunachal Times, Echo of Arunachal, Arunachal Front, Dawnlit Post, Eastern Sentinel and The Far Eastern Review have rendered great encouragement and support to the school. Sri Ranjit Sinha ( Arunachal Times), Sri Jarpum Gamlin (Eastern Sentinel), Sri Arindam Das (Times Now), Sri Ripunjoy Das (The Far Eastern Review), Sri Pradeep Kumar, Sri Ravindranji and Sri Tapan Das are senior journalists who have taken keen interest all these years to care for and connect with the Apnes. They have heartily supported the educational and social efforts of the school by dedicating prestigious space in their papers regularly. Moreover, the school is also featured in many illustrious books like ‘The North-East Trilogy’ by renowned photo-journalists Dipti Bhalla and Kunal Verma and ‘Wakro-The Land of Mishmis and Oranges’ by traveller Seema Bhatt on behalf of Purvidiscovery.
The APNES have a unique way of remembering their well-wishers. All their school and hostel buildings and each of their school-meets and social ventures is named after one of their beloved patrons and well-wishers. The first day of the academic session on the 13th June every year is celebrated as Anudin in gratitude to our founder Swami Anu. Apna Parent’s Day the “Meeta Meet” on 28th January is named in honour of Ms Meeta Bardalai. The “Vineeta games and sports meet” held in the month of November is named in honour of Mr Manoj Jalan and Ms Vineeta Jalan. The Jalans are corporate leaders from Assam who guide the ASSET members on many of their social initiatives. The Jalan family always takes care to introduce the humble rural educational effort to leaders and well wishers, winning us friends from all over the world.
The visitors and friends who come to meet the Apnes are welcomed at the “Manjeet gate”, constructed in gratitude to the Army and print media houses and named in honour of Ms Ritu and Brig Manjeet Mehta, both very close to Apne hearts. The Apnes break for the summer holidays observing the last sessions day as Apurba Diwas in remembering the kindness of Maj Gen A K Bardalai an inspiring and distinguished military leader in the Indian army. The school greets our leaders, friends and patrons on important occasions through the Ajai Cards crafted in affectionately remembering Ms Shraddha Prakash and Brig (Retd) Ajai Prakash.
A Planning Commission team led by Dr Syeda Hameed, Member, Planning Commission recorded their appreciation in 2008 saying, “It has been a unique experience to see a well run school in an aesthetic surrounding. It needs to be used as an example and replicated across the country. Kudos for the dedication and initiative.”
The school also has partnerships with many other social and educational causes, the prominent of them being the VT-AWIC library network that has started a library movement in the Lohit district. The children regularly take part in library activities and have even joined a reading brigade that goes to other schools and encourages reading habits in rural children. The APNE Library in Wakro is truly a state-of-the-art children’s library that not many schools can boast to have access to.
The school is participating in the Green School campaign initiated by the Down to Earth magazine, under which the students have taken up eco-friendly practices like segregation & control of waste and avenue tree plantation in the locality. The Apnes are implementing the RoBin Clean and Green campaign by ASSET under which trees are planted and maintained. The campaign is started in gratitude to Ms Deepa and Deven Singh of EverAssam Tea, Laipuli and named in honour of Mr Binod Saharia, corporate leader from Dibrugarh and Mr Robin Hibu, IPS. Ms Pradnya Ambre and Maj Gen Ashok Ambre, GOC, 2 Mountain Division of the Indian Army formally dedicated the RoBin clean and green campaign on 10th August 2013. The school also engages in other voluntary services like medical camps and environmental activities of ASSET, shouldering various social responsibilities.
Coming to know of the low female literacy rate in the area, the Apna Vidya Bhavan has successfully championed the cause of girl’s education. The school is providing free education to forty children who are mostly girls. The Apnes received great partners in the Lohit Brigade and the 2 Mountain Division of the Army, both sponsoring free education of one girl student each. Sri R.S. Joshi, Smt Jija Madhavan Hari Singh, IPS (Retd), Smt Savita Nagananda, Sat Bhavana Trust, Mumbai, Art Mantram, Banglore, Mr Binod Saharia, Smt Deepa Agarwal and many friends pitch in to support the cause. Geeta Girl’s Education Campaign (GEC) has been launched by the ASSET to further strengthen promotion of girl’s education. The scheme under which book gifts are extended to school libraries and leaders in campaigning for girl’s education is named in honour of Ms Geeta Katoch and Lt Gen G S Katoch. The Apnes and all in ASSET were delighted when Ms Pradnya Ambre and Maj Gen Ashok Ambre dedicated the GEC in the service of the society. Currently ASSET has chosen the North East Trilogy by Dipti Bhalla & Kunal Verma and beautiful country, STORIES FROM ANOTHER INDIA by Dr Syeda Hameed & Gunjan Veda for the campaign. It was a momentous occasion when Brig Rajwant Singh, SM, Commander of 82 Mountain Brigade announced adoption of an orphan girl child for free education to be sponsored by the Army.
Since the school believes in continuous self-assessment and updation, it holds regular Teacher’s Orientation Programs (TOP) for which teachers of other schools are also invited. Mr K K Rao, Principal Delhi Public School, Duliajan, Mr M N Chaturvedi a renowned mathematician, Sri Satyanarayanan Mundayoor, distinguished educationist cum social activist, Ms Anjali Dave and Revathi Shankar, both from Strategies and Solutions, Vadodara have been volunteering their services for the numerous TOPs organized so far. The school also receives the services of voluntary teachers from other parts of the country regularly.
The educators in this school are well aware that being in tribal communities, they must bear a critical awareness about what is passed off in the name of “education”. Spiritual master Sri Sri Kulavadhuta Satpurananda says that “Education comes loaded with certain cultural values of the mainstream that subtly yet strongly undermines one’s way of life. It sometimes makes the learners feel inferior in their own skin and lose confidence in their own culture. Thus education to many, as we see, becomes a passport to flee from one’s own identity into the lure of false “modernity”. The country is full of such cultural misfits”. Guiding the school management thus Sri Sri Kulavadhuta Satpurananda appreciated the school saying, ‘Apna Vidya Bhavan is the manasputra of Swami Anubhavananda, an egg of divine service hatched and getting into form under the wings of teacher fathers and mothers. It is really an asset of ASSET.”
The spiritual master further adds “What we must tap from our education system is the knowledge and the scientific temperament it inculcates. What we would like to retain, in all its originality, is our strongly rooted heritage and natural simplicity. This is our education programme. Tomorrow’s generation must be strengthened to guard their heritage, not “empowered” to abandon them. We favour simplicity rather than smartness, wholesomeness rather than perfection”.
The answer that the school found to this conundrum is vocational training that encourages children ‘to be fit to fit everywhere’. Tribal way of life is about connecting with nature and mother earth. Hence the school focuses on teaching the children vocations like farming, cultivation and other unique tribal skills like traditional knitting, weaving etc. The most recent life-skills workshop the students attended was on the installation and maintenance of solar lamps which was conducted by Mr Christian Casillas. Such training will certainly do a great good to the socio-economic structure of the community. It will help produce skilled human resource and reduce the number of frustrated youth in a meaningless rat-race to get white-collared jobs.
Under the canopy of Swamiji’s blessings and loving nourishment of motivated teachers and hostel staff, the children here are well taken care of. Free from the burden of meaningless academic rote, every child is allowed here to bloom at her own pace, taking her own time. Here you have a school that only cares about nurturing good human beings rather than smart ones, guiding and grooming them to value humanity above everything else.
Thanks to the kindness of Smt Deepa and Sri Deven Singh of Laipuli, Assam, the school will soon have a grand auditorium with state-of-the art indoor sporting facility.
Sat Bhavana Trust, Mumbai has literally taken us from darkness to light by gifting the school its own Apna power house with 2 gensets. Wakro area, due to its long monsoon spells and closeness to the dense Kamlang forest reserve, is perennially hassled by erratic power supplies. At such times the gift of electricity is the most valuable for children and their caretakers.
Maiyya Shanta Girls’ Hostel, a well furnished home for the Apnes, is nearing completion with and will be soon pressed into service, thanks to the kind assistance of Smt Savita Nagananda .
All these projects have been carried out upon Swamiji’s recommendations and his blessings permeate and multiply their splendour.