On the 1st July 1996, in one of the thousands of small rural villages in India, hidden among rich vegetation and surrounded by paddy fields, a small group of children went to school for the first time.
There was a grand opening celebration. Mandal (a group of 20 villages called Mandal) heads and leaders, government officials both educational and political, were invited and despite very busy schedules, all were present and each of them spoke highly of the commitment to educate the children of the village.
In the village of Chinamuthevi, in the South Eastern coastal region of Andhra Pradesh, there had never been a school. The village population of India live in such extreme poverty, that thousands even millions are still illiterate. The Indian Government is starting to address this problem, but in 1996 parents had no hope of educating their children. The language in the area is Telegu.
How it began
N.A.T.I.V.E India is an indigenous organisation that works exclusively in the villages of India helping and supporting the ‘Dalits’. Its founder and director Edgar Sathuluri was asked by the villagers of Chinamuthevi if he would provide education for their children.
While visiting friends in England in 1995, he shared the desire to start a school with them, all he needed was £100.00 monthly support, this would provide education for 35 children and provide a wage for two teachers. At that time Frances Finch was a primary school teacher, when she heard about the plight of these children, she determined to raise the money by inviting people to join her in a commitment to give £5 or £10 a month to provide the necessary funds. A letter was sent to friends and colleagues appealing for support. There was a very good response, the monthly funding was secured; so with Frances guaranteeing the funding, Edgar was told he could “Go ahead, start the school”.
From its humble beginnings in a straw hut, with children aged from 5-11 years the school quickly grew to 55 pupils. The children were given uniforms, made by N.A.T.I.V.E staff, and pumps to give them dignity as they embarked on this new adventure called ‘school’. They were eager to learn, though getting started was difficult as they were all totally illiterate with no basic disciplinary training; however, the change in the children, within a short space of time, was remarkable. They wanted to be in school and their parents had made a commitment to send them, by signing a simple agreement with a thumb print as a seal of approval.
Within a short space of time, a one roomed prayer hut was erected in the village, and the little band of children with their teachers were able to use it. This was the school’s first classroom. Each child had a small slate to write on and sat cross legged on the floor learning to write numbers and the alphabet. At that time another teacher Balamani and an assistant helper were added to the staff.
In 1999 a small piece of land was donated to the school by the village Panchayath (Council) in the centre of the village for a play area. Vernon Lodge Prep School where Frances worked, wanted to help the village children have a nice playground, so they raised money at a Summer Fayre to buy a slide, see-saw and swing. How the village children loved their playground.
News about the little village school in India quickly spread and people were happy to give a ‘one off’ gift to support the school. Fund-raising events were also organised, so that in 2001, with the extra money available, three new classrooms were built adjacent to the prayer hut, complete with electricity and fans.
We love you! We want you in school too!
With 3 new classrooms, the children could be grouped according to age and ability for the first time. However, numbers continued to grow because a decision was made to take neglected, abandoned, tribal children from nearby villages into the school. It took time to win the trust of these little children, but eventually they were collected daily in a Tut-tut, a hired Auto Rickshaw, to go to school, and taken back to their villages at the end of the school day. There were now around 94 children on the register so that even with the new classrooms, there still wasn’t enough room inside; some children had lessons outside.
The school quickly became the centre of village life. It is a haven of safety where children’s lives are being transformed as they are taught in a structured, caring environment. From the beginning the children have been given a freshly cooked substantial lunch every day, making sure they have at least one good meal a day, and all the families receive a monthly ration of rice to help subsidise the family needs; this frees the children from work in the paddy fields, allowing them to go to school and to remain in school.
Parents are involved too; they are helped in all sorts of practical ways and are encouraged to attend meetings where they have been guided over the years in parenting, hygiene and social reform. At the same time another great thing happened, the children started to teach their parents to read and write, so that instead of using a thumb print as a signature on any form, the parents began to proudly write their own names.
A joyful event that blessed the school.
In 2003 Frances had the joy of marrying Paul Finch and moved to Vicenza in Italy. The following year, they received a letter from England telling them that the monthly support sent to the school was no longer enough to cover the running costs and all surplus funds were almost gone. There was a clear message ‘The school risks closure, can you do anything to help?’
Italy to the rescue!
The urgent need for more regular funding for the school was shared with a group of friends in Vicenza. Asked if they would support the school as a special project, the answer was clear yes. They made a commitment to provide monthly support to the general running of the school. As a result in 2005 the charity Native Onlus was established and registered, to promote and to facilitate this new project. Native Onlus’s first objective was to rally financial support to provide education for the children in the village of Chinamuthevi India. Partnering in solidarity with N.A.T.I.V.E India to accomplish this.
Frances Finch was appointed to be the first president, Laura Mogentale vice president and Antonella Girardini the secretary.
Back to the school
In 2002 a new teacher had joined the school, Maddulavera Venkateshwar Rao, better known as MV. MV has the required qualifications that allowed the school to apply for Government Recognition Status, to teach primary aged children. In 2006 the school underwent a thorough inspection by the Mandal District Education Office and received Government Recognition.
The inspectors were highly appreciative of the school’s high standards of teaching and care. It was officially registered as Native Upper Primary School in 2007. MV was the appointed Head Teacher and has continued to run the school with faithful dedication ever since, together with Tabitha who is the schools Deputy Head teacher and secretary. Tabitha is one of the original pioneer teachers.
Sadly, the other pioneer teacher, John Prakash, died of Tuberculosis.
Floods swept through the school
With government recognition came certain criteria which had to be met for the school building. That same year the school premises suffered severe damage due to heavy flooding in the area, and it basically lost everything, all its materials including all children’s schoolbooks. Obviously, something had to be done to protect it from future flooding, so a radical decision was made, to buy, and to raise, the level of a piece of land, and then to build a completely new school building. During a visit to the school in 2007 Paul and Frances Finch were presented with the architect’s plan for the new building.
The design for the new building was a large, smart, elegant structure. It was a very ambitious and costly idea. The first thought Frances remembers having, was, ‘It’s beautiful, but where is the money going to come from, to pay for it all?’ The commitment she had made, was to make sure sufficient funds were provided to run a little village school, that didn’t include a building project, especially of such magnitude. It was a thrilling idea, but it seemed impossible. However in an amazing and wonderful way, over the next few years, the smart new school was built.
A piece of land was purchased in 2008, in the middle of Paddy Fields on the edge of the village, the land was raised and building work began. What an exciting time it was for everyone. The children and villagers in true Indian fashion helped whenever they could with manual labour such as clearing the ground, and fetching and carrying, they all pitched in to help.
A new development in Vicenza
Back in Italy in Vicenza, Gianni Cortese had initiated ‘English For You’ courses for the people of Vicenza. These courses moved to a local community centre, and were run by Native Onlus. With this move, came the wonderful idea, to give all the money, generated from the small fee that students were asked to pay for their lessons, to the Indian village school. The English students were very happy about this and participated gladly. One evening a reporter came to see what was going on at ‘English for You’, which resulted in a very favourable article being published in a local newspaper. Native Upper Primary School in India supported by the ‘English for You’ courses in Vicenza created a lot of local interest.
During the following years in Vicenza, initiatives were taken to promote the school; “You too can become a ‘Friend of Native” became a popular slogan, and many ‘Friends of Native’ wanted to support the school in other regions of Italy too. The school’s benefactors increased greatly. This solidarity of support, together with other fundraising events, such as concerts, street markets, art exhibitions, contributed enormously to the cost of the building you see today.
An example of generosity
A particularly moving example is the story of a lady whose son had died suddenly and tragically. She heard about the school in Chinamuthevi through a friend, and in memory of her son, wanted to help make a difference to the lives of the village children in India, she gave a large donation that paid for the very long, hand washing facility and taps used by the children every day.
Another wonderful gift
The school also has fresh drinking water, the work funded completely by a businessman from Vicenza. What excitement and joy there was when drilling for water started and from the bore hole fresh water suddenly came gushing out!
It was students taking English lessons, who first proposed that a special fund should be set up to provide the school with its own bus, they expressed concern and amazement to see how many children were squeezed into the Auto Rickshaw, as they were taken to and from school. Once again, the first thought was, ‘That’s a great idea! But where will MORE money come from? But come it did, and in 2009 the school was the proud owner of its own School Bus.
Transition into the new building.
What a special occasion it was in 2010 when the now, 110 children, could finally move into the completed right wing of the new building. The school took on a totally new dimension! Paul and Frances were there for the inauguration celebration, together with a medical team from Italy. With superb ease and speed, a bed appeared, and one of the new classrooms was set up as a temporary medical clinic for the duration of the visit. All the school children, and many others from the surrounding villages, had a complete health check and were issued with health record cards.
Recognition of Native Onlus’ contribution
In honour of all that had been achieved thus far, a plaque nominating and thanking Native Onlus in Italy was unveiled. Native Onlus had become a major benefactor of the school. There was a special dedication ceremony, and a delightful celebration, in vibrant, colourful Indian style. Once again all regional dignitaries were present. The children were given a new school uniform and a celebration goody bag. Meanwhile, work on the left wing of the building continued.
Establishing good foundations
Recognising the teachers would need help to organise and develop the school effectively at this new stage, in 2011 Jeff Laws a retired head teacher and his wife Sylvia, also a retired teacher from England, were invited to join Frances and Sara Ansaloni to visit NUPS. Their professional expertise was invaluable, and Sara, an Italian Architect, designed and planned the layout of the beautiful new dining room and fully equipped new kitchen which was in the process of being built.
By 2013 all the ground floor structure was finished. This comprised of a kitchen and dining room area, four classrooms and one very large assembly room, which would also be developed into the Kindergarten. Outside there is a separate toilet block and the very practical hand washing facility, both funded by two generous gifts to the school.
With the ground floor complete another visit was made that year. Jeff and Sylvia continued to help establish order and structure for the school day in the new environment, they also helped the teachers to develop a more interactive style of teaching. Frances concentrated on the ‘Early Years’ with the Kindergarten children, introducing for the first time the use of colourful didactic materials.
There were two new teachers, making a total of five employed teachers, plus two helpers who prepared the school meals and kept the school clean, and a driver for the school bus.
A new boundary wall
Continuing to help and support the school, in August of 2015 Jeff, Sylvia and Chris took a team of 13 young volunteers from The Slade in SE London to visit the school, and in the scorching heat of an Indian summer, they started to build a much-needed boundary wall around the school premises. What a great job they did!
The school now has a degree of safety and protection from the buffalo, wild dogs and other animals that were prone to wonder over and around the school grounds, although a Monkey was seen cheekily running along the wall on one of the visits.
Sitting at tables and using a fork
That same year the school’s smart kitchen was finally fully equipped and functioning and the beautiful dining room ready to use, both made possible by two more generous gifts. Sitting at tables and using forks, the children continue to enjoy a freshly cooked, substantial, healthy, lunch now prepared in the school’s own kitchen, by two dedicated ladies from the village, who are employed as the cooks and the school’s care takers. The school has created jobs for the village people.
Back to Italy
Due to an unexpected event in 2015 the English Courses in Vicenza had to came to an end. This created an enormous short fall in the school’s annual funding that year, and into 2016; thankfully NATIVE India managed to subsidise the school through that period. Then as ‘Friends of Native’ in Italy and England became aware of the situation, there was an immediate and generous response, so that by 2017 the school was once again receiving complete full funding.
There was a wonderful thanks giving celebration in 2016 to commemorate the schools 20th birthday, with parents, teachers and children present including the Mandal dignitaries who wished to voice their appreciation of the establishment and growth of the school, acknowledging the academic achievement of the students, and the dedicated hard work of the committed teachers.
Just in time
Two months before the start of the COVID pandemic in 2019, a visit was made to introduce Jessica Sotera from Italy, and two other young ladies, to the wonderful children at the school. This was a very special time of getting to know the children. What fun the children had, using for the first time, the lovely new playground area, complete with swings, a slide, a climbing frame and a see-saw. Also the new roof covering had been fitted, which will protect them from the rain, when they go to the toilet and to wash their hands. All this things, thanks to another special gift.
Gifts of appreciation
Later that year, wanting to honour and encourage two very committed teachers MV and Peter, they received a scooter each, to facilitate their journeys to and from school, and to help them to get around the villages quicker to help families in need. In fact the scooters arrived just in time to provide precious support, distributing food supplies during the Covid pandemic to otherwise destitute villagers.
A summary to conclude
The flourishing of the school is something everyone is proud of. The education of the hundreds of children that have passed through its doors and the transforming influence it has had on their lives is priceless. What is also obvious is the major influence it has had not only in the lives of its students but also the village community of Chinamuthevi. The school has given dignity and hope to the village people. The fully functioning Primary School that provides free education to the children in the area is a story of love. Much of its history describes, with thankfulness, the financial provision that enabled a dream to become a reality, through the generosity and kindness of many people willing to share from their abundance to bless others. It is an ongoing story with a vision for future development.
The school has prospered going from strength to strength. The children work hard at their studies, and are well prepared to take the entrance exam which allows them to go on to a State High School.
When they leave NUPS, Native Onlus contributes together with benefactors from England, to the children’s education through High School, they are encouraged to stay in school and the books and materials they need are provided for them. After High School many opportunities are now open for them to join work schemes, or to continue their education in colleges, some of the students have gone on to get a degree. In the past there were no opportunities open to the Dalits, they were excluded from normal working and social life, thankfully that is changing but as first generation children coming from extreme poverty they still need financial support to continue through work schemes, into work placements.
Girls in the Indian culture, are married at a very young age, which means many of the students from NUPS are now married and have children of their own, but they are no longer illiterate. However the very first student from NUPS to graduate was a girl Phani, she became a nurse.
The school follows the Indian National Curriculum developing skills in numeracy, literacy, history, geography, science, art, crafts and physical education, but it only has one computer to develop IT. This is area of learning needs to be developed in the future. The children need access to online learning, particularly to better their English. Being able to speak good English is very important for them to advance, the school is seeking to address this, wanting to make learning the English language more accessible.
There are currently five teachers in the school; three very committed, but one of the challenges over the years has been the continuous change of two teachers in the lower end of the school. We hope this will change in the future so that all the teachers have opportunity to learn more interactive teaching skills, which can only have a greater impact on the children’s learning, throughout the school at every level.
Tabitha the pioneer teacher who was only 18 years old when the school started, has not only been a dedicated teacher, running the school with MV, but she has applied herself to study, and now has a Degree in Education. Everyone is very proud of her hard work and achievement. She is married to Sundar and they have a lovely daughter Blessy. Together their commitment and hard work has brought new life to the village.
Through the school, parents as well as being taught by their children, to read and write, have also learned the simple disciplines and moral choices that affect and govern everyday life. In the village of Chinamuthevi, the possibility of growth, development, transformation, and learning is established, giving hope of a better future.
Living in such affluent societies as we do, it’s difficult to comprehend, that there are children today who have never seen a jigsaw puzzle, or held a fluffy toy, who don’t have any toys or board games, or building bricks or Lego, and have no books at home to read, but there are thousands even millions of them in Indian villages alone.
The school rises majestically from the surrounding paddy fields and stands not only as a symbol of hope, but it is a place where love, and joy permeate each child’s heart.
The devastating, binding chain of ignorance and poverty is broken.
There is always more to be done, so in an ocean of need, every drop counts.
Thank you for taking time to read the wonderful story of Native Upper Primary School.
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