RDF (Rural Development Foundation)
Kalleda is a town of around 5,000 in northern Andhra Pradesh, India. The town is dominated by the enormous Errabelli mansion, surrounded by 20' foot walls, inhabited for many decades by a family that controlled much of the commerce, transportation, and agriculture in the area.
Ancestral Mansion Into a School
By the 1990s, none of the Errabelli family lived in the mansion any more; they had built careers in engineering, medicine, software, and other fields in India and the US. In 1995, family members started the process of turning the mansion into a school. This is a vital use for it, given the value of an education in India today, and the deplorable quality of Kalleda's state-run primary school. Family members started an NGO, which they called Rural Development Foundation (website), with the initial goal of establishing and running Kalleda Rural School. The project was made possible by the ideas and support from various family members, and by the resourcefulness of one key branch of the family -- Rammohan and Vandita Rao, who lived a few hours away in Hyderabad, and who were willing to oversee the creation and operation of the school. They have since been joined by Vidya Sagar Rao, who works closely with them and serves as manager of RDF.
A board was organized for RDF and several distinguished individuals agreed to serve. Funds were generated by family members and fund-raisers. The school opened in 1996, with one class, and since then has grown to 10 classes and over 500 students. (Primary schools in India follow the British model, going through 10th grade; 11-12th grades are called Junior College.) The first class graduated in 2005.
The school's admissions policy reserves half its seats for girls, and preferential admission is offered to dalits and tribals. It has an extensive scholarship program since so many families in the area are extremely poor.
Its impact has already been remarkable. In comparison to the government school in Kalleda, where less than 15% of students go on to junior college, the percentage of KRS students continuing on has been 99%.
In 1998, RDF organized a second rural school: it was in Matendla village of Medak District, where no adult had more than a 6th grade education. For 5 years, there was no building and classes were held with children sitting under trees. When I first saw Matendla in 2002, a building had been designed (thanks to pro bono work by a Hyderabad architect) and ground had been broken. In 2005 I returned, with my daughter Abby, to see the new school in full swing, even with a computer lab.
In January 2006, RDF opened up their third and fourth schools: primary schools in Redlawada and Wadlakonda, both in Parvathagiri Mandal of Warangal District..
Schools at Kalleda and Matendla provide nutritious midday meals cooked on the premises. Aside from the obvious benefits of this program, it also is a way to influence social relationships since all students take turns serving food. The occasional student who objects to serving, or being served by, a harijan child, quickly learns that this leads to relinquishing their seat at the school.
Kalleda Rural School grows all of its own vegetables, using innovative non-pesticide methods that provide clean food and also demonstrate eco-friendly agriculture to local growers.
Pai Junior College will provide meals, as will all RDF schools eventually.
Opening Up the World
We hear from pundits that the "world is flat" because of the opportunities globalization provides to populations, especially in places like Bangalore. This makes for good copy but it actually applies only to only a sliver of the developing world. Most of India is still decidedly not "flat" in terms of opportunities, and most kids in places like Kalleda and Matendla face few opportunities and a bleak future. But education does open doors in India, which makes it all the more lamentable that the state primary education system is in such disarray.
The people at RDF have built remarkable schools and devote much time to them. The top priority is core academic subjects, but the schools are also centers of innovation where new extracurricular projects are constantly being tried. For instance: