July 8: Picture a world far removed from today’s life. No roads, nor any means of transport. Where going to school means crossing three knee-deep streams on foot.

Kalpana Naroti used to do just that to reach her school, the Lok Biradari Post Basic Ashram Shala. Her efforts paid off. She is this year’s topper in the Senior Secondary Certificate Examinations (SSCE), in Maharashtra. She is now looking forward to joining college.

The bright student belongs to the Madia Gond tribe. The Madia Gondis live deep in the forests of Maharashtra’s Gadchiroli district. The struggle for life is very hard. Educating children is like a miracle.

This is one of the reasons why the school in Hemalkassa, Gadchiroli district, has earned a name for itself. It is among the few schools in Maharashtra where all the children who appeared for the SSCE have passed. And all its students belong to the Madia-Gond tribe, says a report in ‘The Indian Express’ newspaper.

One person is partly responsible for making this miracle happen, and that is Principal Gopal Phadnis. Twenty-five years ago, he was a young post-graduate who gave up the comfortable job of a lecturer to teach in the school. The school was opened in 1973 by a people with dreams in their hearts — the doctor couple Prakash Amte and Manda.

In the beginning, there were just 25 students in the school. Phadnis would go from one house to another, begging people to educate their children.

The Madia Gond tribals were not too keen because they were not even sure what a school meant. How could it? The only contact that they had had with the outside world was with officers of the forest department.

Then there was the question of language. These tribal children knew only one — the local Madia language. All the teachers had to learn Madia. They replaced Marathi words with Madia words in the text books.

How things have changed. Today, the demand for seats at the Lok Biradari Post Basic Ashram Shala is so high that the school has to accommodate many more students than it has facilities for.

It is a proper school in every other sense as well. It consists of a well-maintained concrete structure with classrooms, a hostel, a dining hall and an auditorium big enough to hold 1,000 students. Among the subjects, students have the choice of learning skills with which they can earn money. Like handicrafts and agriculture.

Kalpana is not the only Madia Gondi to come out of this school with flying colours. There are many more. Among them are two doctors and two medical students, some teachers, a few policemen and government officers. Many of them have left Hemalkassa. But one day, they hope to give back something to the school that built their lives.

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