Sunday Special | Karnataka

Turning around impoverished schools, one step at a time

The OSAAT Rotary Government Primary School at Neelakanta Agrahara in Malur.  

In the heart of Kolar district, a winding tar road embraced by clusters of brick kiln on either side gives way to a muddy path that leads to a little-known village, Neelakanta Agrahara. The kilns relinquish their hold on the rugged road as rocks and the deceptively appealing but invasive lantana flowers dominate the landscape. One building stands out, its walls adorned with drawings of popular toons, birds and even vegetables. With a see-saw, swing and other playground fixtures, it has the trappings of a well-funded private school, beyond the budget of most village households. But locals know better. The village’s government primary school occupies pride of place here.

A year-and-a-half ago, however, it fit the standard stereotype of government-run schools with just three rooms, and overworked teachers taking combined classes to make up for the shortfall of staff. “Sometimes, we had classes in the open as there was a shortage of rooms. During the rainy season, water would drip into the classroom,” says Rakshitha R, now a class five student.

What the children and even teachers don’t know is that a fundraising event with music and dance performances by children in San Francisco helped turn their school around. The credit goes to a group of Indian origin and NRI software professionals living in San Francisco’s Bay Area as well as volunteers in India. Their organisation, One School At a Time (OSAAT), identifies schools in the country that are in desperate need of a facelift and provides funds for infrastructure work. Since its inception, nearly 15 years ago, the organisation has turned around 21 schools in India, of which17 are from Karnataka, two in Uttar Pradesh, one each in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. A majority of these are government schools in rural areas.

Explaining how it all began, Vadiraja Bhatt, Managing Trustee, OSAAT India said that a group of eight enthusiastic IT professionals of Indian origin living in the Bay Area in the U.S. wanted to do something for a “good cause.” “Our first fund raised $3000 in 2003, which went into the development of a government school in Bajegoli, Karkala taluk, Udupi,” he said.

OSAAT USA chairperson B.V. Jagadish, who studied till class seven at the Bagalur Primary and middle school in Devanahalli taluk in Bengaluru Rural district, said that the organisation raises funds by holding music and dance events in the San Francisco Bay Area. At these events, they raise anywhere between ₹60 lakh to ₹1 crore per annum. “We use our programmes as an anchor to get attention from people who later sponsor for OSAAT,” said Mr. Jagadish. Their signature annual event is NaatyaRaaga, conducted in February, which sees the participation of 1,200 to 1,500 children from 150 dance and music schools in the US. “Now there are several people who are willing to fund schools in their local States,” he added.

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The original version expanded OSAAT as One Step At a Time. It was corrected to One School At a Time.

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Printable version | Jul 30, 2021 11:53:24 PM |

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