“I want to educate people about their origin – the Earth that we belong to,” said Abraham Thomas, with passion in his voice and a clear drive to change the way children are taught in India.
“As a tribute to my grandfather who practised medicine without charging fees from his patients, I wanted to create a space where people can sing and dance, and also learn. It was important that we go back to our roots and educate ourselves amidst nature and traditional values,” he said speaking to The Logical Indian.
With the help of a young architecture graduate, Dheeraj, Abraham initiated his dream project – HutK – a thatched roof home in an amphitheatre. After days of research on local material available in the form of bamboo, stone, clay, lime, sand, suitable mud, hand woven tree fibre ropes and medicinal plants, the project was given the light of day.
The duo started with procuring drums for water storage and treatment of lime, clay and straw. They built a trench and filled it with water by providing a tarpaulin sheet barrier. The bamboo was treated under water.
They were learning how to build a hut from scratch – the hut that we have lived in for centuries before shifting to our concrete homes. The only difference – their hut would be equipped with modern facilities like internal wiring, and embedded tables and sofas.
“Schools should bring more ideas on local needs, challenges and successes, to create a spark in children in the pursuit of solutions,” believes Abraham.
He knew that developing such a space is not impossible; one only needs to be dedicated enough.
With the help of Dheeraj, he used 70-year-old salvaged red sanders wooden pillars to support a roof that would be done before the rains. Everyday, the costs kept piling up, but that did not stop them from achieving their end goal.
After a struggle of eight months, they built a hut on the sidelines of a stage where the young and the old can teach, act in plays, recite poems and sing hymns The village Koduru in Andhra Pradesh houses the amphitheatre.
There were others too who supported Abraham. A bunch of committed tribal and non-tribal forest produce collectors and their zeal, kept the project alive.
“HutK’s purpose is to bring children out in the open and to make them aware of themselves and to become more adept at speaking in public,” said Abraham.
When asked how he managed to fund a project of this scale, Abraham said that his friends played a crucial role in it. In addition to this, he invested Rs 15 lakh of his family money to give shape to HutK.
“My children have always studied in a Telugu government school and to compensate for the loss in English, I also started a library,” said Abraham.
Leela Library and Learning Centre
“An alternative learning centre, Leela stands for Library, Education, Environment, Language and Arts. It is an education initiative to contribute quality learning process through impacting the local demography of Koduru, Andhra Pradesh. It strives to enhance the value of education by igniting young minds to think and experience the joy of exploring real-life opportunities. The Centre aims to bring back family involvement in education,” said Abraham.
“The library has been constructed by renovating the first post office in Koduru which was built in 1955. My goal is to bring education to the grassroot level of everything that the children see around them – architecture, plumbing, town planning, problem solving and skill building. This requires a much more deeper understanding than what we are taught in school these days,” said Abraham.
“Government schools have a lot of potential, however, in many areas they lack the infrastructure. I have put my children in a government school, but for them to continue their education in such an institution, I needed to make sure that they have access to all opportunities,” he added.
His drive to compensate for the loss suffered by government school students, benefitted not only his children, but many others.
The project to improve government school infrastructure
Abraham has adopted the school where his children study – the Bayana Palli M.P.P. School. Due to his efforts, it has regular water supply and is run by solar power. The school has a big compound where the students can play and every child has a desk in the classroom.
“I realised that government schools get very meagre financial grants that are inadequate to complete the tasks they are meant for. The Supreme Court had given them a grant of five thousand rupees to repair the toilets. This couldn’t even suffice to buy enough brick and sand for the repairs, let alone make them functional,” said Abraham.
“Having a first-hand daily involvement, my wife Sheeba who was volunteering as an English teacher observed that over 36 children were sharing one bucket of water to wash their plates after the mid-day meal. Further, when a child wanted to defecate, he/she walked back home in a hurry and never returned that day. The ones who wanted to use the loo had to fetch water first before they planned to defecate. This was very painful to see. Urination meant going across the village road and finding a safe spot. This had to change if I wanted my children to continue there,” he continued.
Abraham and Sheeba chalked out a plan and the budget outlay for the project which included a solar power unit and 2500 litre water tanks (considering the usage of water by 50 to 100 children, three teachers and the plants in the school compound).They built separate urinals for boys and girls. “Western toilets improved the chances of cleaning the toilets by the children themselves and gave respite to the girls,” said Abraham. The three levels of urinals made sure boys of all age groups found it easy
They built separate urinals for boys and girls. “Western toilets improved the chances of cleaning the toilets by the children themselves and gave respite to the girls,” said Abraham. The three levels of urinals made sure boys of all age groups found it easy to use the toilet and the piped running water guaranteed cleanliness. A separate toilet for teachers was also provided.
“Power supply from solar energy had to cover fans, lights, motor pump for water, and audio-visual equipment used during school hours. The toilets needed a roof, good quality toilet fittings, tiles for easy maintenance, a tiled plate/hand wash basin with multiple self closing water taps. The school needed additional facilities like a compound wall and a gate. A a good paint job was also required. Thus we provided these facilities at a total cost of roughly Rs 3 lakh,” said Abraham.
Education – the need of the hour
Most of us who are blessed enough to receive a decent education, pursue goals that make our lives easier. We desire for the best job, the perfect family life and kids who are able study in an institution that prepares them for the progressive world.
In our quest to attain maximum satisfaction out of the one life given to us, we forget the ones we’ve left behind.
But Abraham believes that true progress is one which carries with it the community that we live in and not just a select few members.
“I want to revive every functioning government school and make it a model school for that village. I want everyone to invest in their school. There is value in community building through schools because a school can act as a problem solving centre for every village – the source of information, knowledge, and future sustainability. A school should be revived to revive the village,” he said.
“The government school where my children study had three teachers, which has now increased to five. The attendance has improved and the parents are more keen to send their wards to the school. Now I will shift my focus to another school and uplift the institution in the same way. I want to ensure that the next school my kids attend is as good as the former,” he continued with utmost devotion in his voice.
A dentist trained on community healthcare under the Ratan Tata foundation, Abraham works in an OPD (Out-Patient Department) in the village with his father. “My father is 78 years old, but still practises medicine”, he said.
Abraham dedicates his commitment toward the society to the fellowship he did with the foundation. For most part of his professional life, he has worked in rural areas and with socio-economic groups.
He believes, “Education must be an empowering experience for a child from a rural area. It should bring out the community in us and win over the individualism that has crept in. Education should allow a good number to wander in the pursuit of answers, some to research scientifically, and many more to apply these learnings to protect our environment, forests and our traditional knowledge systems. It should bring us closer as one world.”
Abraham Thomas instills a sense of hope while inspiring each of us. He is an advocate of community building with a massive regard for education, unity, brotherhood and cooperation among human beings. He believes that the soul of a community lies in its capacity to educate its members. Abraham’s work has uplifted many, and we hope that he continues to change lives as the world move towards a more progressive future.