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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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  DEVOTIONAL  
 
   
Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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  COUNSELING
 
Back to infancy -- they n
 
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
     
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  EDUCATIONAL  
     
 
India's Madame Tussauds
  By Quaid Najmi  
  Kolhapur (Maharashtra) (IANS) -- Children studying gurukul style in the shade of a tree, farmers having lunch in the fields, cowherds milking their cows...The scene is that of a typical Indian village -- yet not a soul stirs. With its lifelike sculptures, the Siddhagiri Museum in Kolhapur district, around 400 km south of Mumbai, is India's answer to Madame Tussauds in London.

"Though the idea was derived from Madame Tussauds, the concept is taken from Gandhiji's philosophy on the importance of the rural economy," explains Adrushya Kadhsiddheshwar Swami, head of the Siddhagiri Gurukul Trust that constructed the unique museum. "Gandhiji wanted each village to be an independent entity, playing its role in the national economy."

The museum also depicts a number of ancient Indian sages.

For instance, under a huge tree, a class under the traditional gurukul system is in progress. "This is the great Maharishi Patanjali conducting a class in the ancient Indian style," says Adrushya Swami, the 27th head of the Siddhagiri Math, which has been a Hindu pilgrim centre for years.

A few metres ahead is the life-size statue of sage Kashyap treating a sick infant even as his distraught mother looks on, and on the opposite side, maharishi Kanaad can be seen conducting a scientific experiment, and maharishi Varahamihir is shown conducting astronomy classes.

The 'commercial area' of the village has shops in which items of daily use are bartered. A cowherd milks his cows and barters fresh milk, a blacksmith is hard at work while his wife looks from a room inside.

The museum calls itself an open air exhibition centre. "This is an attempt to portray how the ancient Indian rural economy functioned, it was completely self-sufficient, each individual had a productive role to play with appropriate returns and there was no discrimination," Adrushya Swami said.

He said unlike Madame Tussauds, there are no "internationally known super-icons" who serve as models but ordinary folk who lived and worked in ancient Indian villages.

Also, unlike Madame Tussauds where wax is the main material, all the 1,000-plus images at Siddheshwar Museum have been made of rocks and bricks, stuffed with wire gauze. The images were shaped with wet cement by nearly 80 skilled masons.

After the cement dried and solidified, a team of around 60 artists took over with a battery of colours. They painted the finest details on each subject, whether human or animal or the environment around.

The bare minimum lighting used enhances the effects to present a natural appearance.

Despite the extreme hot, cold and rainy conditions in southern Maharashtra, the museum images have withstood the ravages of the climate in the past two years since it was set up, said Sanket Sagvekar, a trustee.

"Built on an eight-acre plot within the 31-acre Siddhagiri Math complex, which is an 800-year-old pilgrim centre, the entire project cost around Rs. 10 million, mainly raised through donations in cash and kind by devotees," Sagvekar said.

Adrushya Swami said the museum will keep pace with modern developments. A mini-museum has been created for this.

"There are banks, fruit and agro-processing centres, bustling markets, cyber cafes, modern schools, colleges and other infrastructure that can help elevate our villages to global villages. This can curb the influx of the rural population to urban centres and truly pave the way for the all-round development of India," Adrushya Swami said.

The museum has been steadily growing in popularity -- from a trickle of a few hundred visitors, it now attracts an average of 15,000 visitors daily from which the Siddhagiri Math earns a sizeable income.

The money is ploughed back, partly into augmenting the museum with new exhibits coming up regularly. The rest goes into constructing other infrastructure for the villages in the vicinity.

The Math now wants to spread its wings outside the Kolhapur region. There are plans to set up similar projects at or around major urban centres like Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur and then around the country, Sagvekar said.
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Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in
 
   
Back to studies
  By Kulsum Mustafa  
  FOR Shabbo, 12, hailing from a nondescript village in Hardoi, Uttar Pradesh (UP), life has been sheer drudgery. Eldest of five sisters, she had to be pulled out of school, barely two months after joining it. Her father Baitullah, working as a labourer earning just Rs 50-60 per day, could not afford the school fee.

With a heavy heart, she had to join the other village girls, who worked at a nearby 'zardozi' (traditional embroidery done with gold and silver threads) centre. Arduous labour of seven or eight hours fetched her Rs 20-30 per day, barely enough to ensure a square meal a day for the family.

The fact that the work affected her vision and the fine needles punctured her fingers hardly seemed to matter to anyone. Not even to Shabbo, who worked day and night without a break, without any rest -- weaving dreams in shiny threads for others, while her own had not even taken shape.

The only luxury that she allowed herself occasionally was to 'steal' a few rupees from her daily earning and treat herself to 'golegappas' (a spicy snack) and an ice-lolly. Of course, for this she had to be prepared for the 'spanking' if her father found out. Most of the time, he did not.

It was a hard life for a teenager but, frankly, Shabbo did not really mind it. After all, she knew no better. Life was going on at its own pace, without any excitement or expectation. But then one day something happened, that changed Shabbo's world. It made her look at things with a different perspective. In 2008, a field worker came looking for 'out of school' girls to be enrolled in the Residential Bridge Course (RBC), a state government and UNICEF initiative.

Shabbo, who had faint but happy memories of her school days, showed her eagerness to join. "Hum to zindigi bhar bus kaam hi kartey reh gaey (I have only been doing work all my life)," is how she explained her emotions when she first heard of the RBC. The pathos in her tender voice could pierce any sensitive heart.

Now life was gifting her another chance and Shabbo found herself welcoming this change with open arms. But it took a lot of counseling of her parents, especially of Baitullah, to be convinced that the course at the residential school would do his daughter good. Field workers had to make several visits to Shabbo's home before Baitullah agreed. They told him that the 11 months would change his daughter into a young woman he would be proud of. Even Shabbo's old school teacher and mother put pressure on him. Finally, Baitullah relented.

Shabbo joined the first batch of RBC set up at Sarvodaya Ashram, Hardoi, on March 1, 2008. There were 200 other girls selected from two blocks of Hardoi, namely Hariyanva and Pihani.

The RBC has emerged as an effective strategy, both at the NGO and government level, for bringing 'out of school' girls to their age-appropriate class in school. It follows a curriculum that allows learning at a faster pace, facilitated by the older age of the children, and prepares them for entry in a class that is appropriate to their age.

At a RBC, trained live-in teachers supervise the studies and games. A specially devised innovative educational concept is used to teach girls between the ages of 11-14 years at these residential schools. Over a period of 11 months, the students are taught the curriculum of primary classes up till class five, following a specific daily timetable for meals, studies and sports.

Through intensive but interesting methods they are taught Hindi, English, Science, Maths and life-skills. Transition from one class to the other requires a minimum of one week where evaluation, sharing, training and planning for the next session is conducted. Whenever needed, another week is added for clarifications and improvements in specific topics. The girls go home twice in the entire 11 months.

Besides the Hardoi school, two more have opened in UP at Gonda and in Mall, the latter in the periphery of Lucknow, taking the total number of RBCs in the state to three.

Shabbo has rediscovered herself at RBC. She knows that life will never be the same again outside the portals of the centre. Her batchmates Soni, Ruby, Aruna have similar tales to tell. Aruna, in fact, has now gathered courage to tell her parents that she will not marry before she completes her intermediate.

Soni's father Jaichand turns emotional when he comes to meet her at the centre. "I cannot believe this smart young girl is my own timid Soni, I am happy she took this step," says her father. He says that he had pulled her out of the village school because they were wasting time and not teaching anything.

UNICEF education specialist and the moving spirit behind the project, Vinoba Gautam believes that the USP of these RBCs is the curriculum and the play methods used to teach the girls. "They are taught Hindi, mathematics and science and life skills. English is added in the class fourth curriculum. Poems are taught through group recitation; and Math through pebbles, stones and sticks. They are encouraged to develop leadership besides life-skills," he said.

The project is seen as a major support to the government in the crucial area of girls' education. The per child cost is around $500 per course, which is very much within the prescribed government norms.

Gautam talks about a five-day model summer camp recently organised in Lucknow from June 1 to 5 for school drop-out girls. The success of the camp made the authorities decide to conduct similar camps in nine more districts, which have the lowest female literacy rates. These camps at Rampur, Badaun, Bahraich, Shravasti, Balrampur, Siddharthnagar, Maharajganj, Sonbhadra and Lalitpur are attended by nearly 1,000 girls.

"These girls are fast learners but we have to ensure that they we sustain their interest," Neera Trivedi, district coordinator of the Lucknow camp said.

The percentage of girls' dropout is very high in UP, a state which has nearly a quarter of million children out of school. UNICEF has been an equal partner in the UP government's endeavor to bring girls back to school.

Dwelling on the reasons for dropout, a UNICEF report cites extreme poverty, school at a far away distance from village, women (mother, sister) in the family being uneducated, girls entrusted with household responsibilities, looking after younger siblings while parents go to work, concern about safety of the girl, poor education imparted at schools and many of the government schools, many of them have just a single teacher. Many teachers behave roughly with the students and make them do a lot of work not connected with studies. (Women's Feature Service)
 
   
Fundamental flaws
  By Balvinder Singh  
  A SURVEY conducted reportedly by the Institute for Development and Communication (Indian Express, August 9), on the directions of the Punjab Government, has pointed out that 43 per cent of posts of teachers are lying vacant in the state-run primary schools. And 66 per cent of these schools do not have sufficient seating facilities for the children.

Sixty-two years after Independence, this is the current state of primary education in one of the supposedly rich Indian states!

Thus, would the recent, loudly-projected "Right to Education Bill", which Parliament passed on August 4 to ensure free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 6 and 14 be able to fill the 'actual' bill?

More so, when its non-seriousness can well be imagined from the sad fact that the Bill was passed after a ritualistic debate, throughout which the House was thinly-populated.

Agreed, that this newly enacted law is progressive in nature.

But who, supposedly, would seek this newly introduced fundamental right? And that too in a country which not only lacks in basic infrastructure for education, primarily in primary education, but where a majority is denied other fundamental rights, from freedom of expression to freedom of preaching one's religious beliefs, with impunity.

Here, one is also reminded of the old adage that one can take the horse to the water but cannot make it drink.

I have gone through a few run-of-the-mill newspaper articles and watched some madly dramatised TV discussion-shows that have been debating the issue since the Bill was passed.

But none could tell me how our 13-14 year old part-time maid servant, who works from morning till evening in various households to eke out her and her family's living, would be benefited from her newly acquired fundamental right to free education?

Suppose she goes to a school, which is without teachers or space for sitting, what kind of education would she be getting and who would provide economic support that she presently is providing to her family?

While the Central Government is busy in patting her back by making this long pending law a reality, it openly shirks from its responsibility of protecting the fundamental right of uneducated Indian children by stating that its implementation is a state subject.

Why this dichotomy? Are our law-makers blind to all the ground realities?

Why go into the details of various roadblocks of this new amendment? Are we not aware of the fact that a large number of our children -- against another prevailing law -- still work in factories, households, construction sites and commercial establishments?

No rule prompted Mother Teresa or Bhagat Puran Singh of Pingalwara fame or Baba Aya Singh, about whom 'The Herald of India' published an article written by Nirupama Dutt recently, to tackle various rampant social problems, including illiteracy amongst the poor and underprivileged.

When Guru Nanak Dev, the first Sikh Guru, and his likes went about bringing social changes they did not wait for the enactment of any law to begin their reformative mission.

It was their strong will, which our politicians of the day lack, rather shamefacedly, to do so and that too not for earning any appreciation or honours!

"We did it, though only on papers, for the first time and thus must be appreciated" is a shoddy and shallow slogan. It is well said that being number one (or, say, first) is like being a lady; if one has to tell or explain that, one is not!

Bernard Shaw was right when he said: "He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches", or, say, sloganises and self-praises!









 
   
End time for Christian schools
  By C. L. Lopez  
  CALVARY Baptist Academy educated generations of youth from its namesake church in Montgomery, Alabama. But in spring 2009, after 30 years, it graduated its last class.

In June, school officials announced that the academy would be closing its doors, making it one of hundreds of private Christian schools nationwide that fell casualty this summer to a struggling economy and dwindling enrolment.

The Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI), which has more than 5,500 member schools worldwide, normally averages 150 school closures each year. It has already had more than 200 schools close in 2009, according to spokesperson Janet Stump.

The recession has hit struggling schools hard, and widespread unemployment has made it difficult for many families to keep paying private tuition rates.

"We believe that many families will not return," Stump said. "For many, it will take years to recover from the financial stress."

Schools in California, Florida, New England, and the upper Midwest have been hit the hardest, she said.

Enrollment in Southern California's ACSI schools dropped more than 9 percent in 2009 to the lowest that regional director Jerry Haddock has seen in his 22 years with the accrediting body.

"School closures happen every year, but declining enrollment doesn't," Haddock said. Enrollment in ACSI schools is down 5 percent nationwide, he said.

A smaller population of elementary-age children and the increasing popularity of charter schools -- public-school alternatives that don't charge tuition -- also have lowered enrollment in private Christian schools, he said.

The doors to many of the region's ACSI schools remain open for now, but school officials are waiting to see their final enrollment numbers for the 2009-10 school year before making further decisions. Ironically, the soft enrollment numbers come at a time when Haddock's schools no longer face teacher shortages -- a silver lining to California laying off thousands of public school teachers.

While the economy has affected enrollment in schools of all denominations, Edward Gamble, executive director of the 720-member Southern Baptist Association of Christian Schools, is optimistic that enrollment numbers will improve with the economy. "The schools that are started properly and rooted in Biblical philosophies and Christian moral views are the schools that have stayed," he said.

Schools that do not rely on tuition to operate have fared better.

At one time, Lutheran schools did not charge tuition, supported instead by their respective churches, according to Terry Schmidt, associate director of schools for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Schmidt, who estimates that a few dozen of the denomination's 2,300 schools have closed, said Lutheran schools are making accommodations for students. He noted that one school, Child of God Lutheran School in Saint Peters, Missouri, is guaranteeing admission to families that cannot pay tuition.

Not all schools will be able to be so generous, leaving some families without the option of Christian education for their children.

"Christian schools provide tremendous support to students during their time away from their parents," Schmidt said. "Christian families are going to have to be more intentional and find ways to integrate their faith with the [children] as they raise them." (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
 
   
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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