Building forward

B Ramdas and Rama Sastry

Some 15 years ago, at a meeting of adivasi leaders a consultant posed this question to them – how will all this sustain over the years? First of all it took some effort to explain what sustain means and then a very long silence followed. After a while, more as loud thinking, a hesitant voice of an elder said, “If enough people believe in the ideas, it will sustain!” And, this simple statement has become a cornerstone of measuring our work since then.

Circumstances more or less decided how we would translate this vision of ours. When we began our work with the adivasi community we had no experience of their worldview, their language, or their aspirations. Therefore, we took a group of 15 young people from their communities and began a teacher education programme. This was an intensive four-year process. For some it continued even longer. In the course of this programme we realized that it was not enough to just make them into teachers, but also leaders and institution builders. Today, it is this group that manages our school and takes care of the field programmes that touch nearly 3000 children who attend government schools.

The teacher education programme continues even today. But after the first one, the subsequent programmes are conducted and monitored mostly by the members from previous groups. Thus the vision has been spreading, slowly but surely. No matter what the vision, how it plays out in reality is what will be carried forward, and often when institutions get bigger, managing them rather than the vision takes priority. Establishing non-hierarchical relationships among the children and teachers, democratic functioning, making the children and the community’s life meaningful through a seamless continuum between the two have been central to our Vision. We believe any institution will then be able to self-correct its vision and keep moving with the times.

It helps to understand that one person’s vision can never be fully understood by another no matter how close the relationship is. Each person will take the basic tenets and rework them within the framework of his or her strengths. Each generation will and must have its own vision as to how the world must move forward. Otherwise, the vision petrifies and begins to atrophy. We also realize that a vision cannot be institutionalized, nor can it be set in stone. It must be dynamic. It lives, if it lives at all, in the minds of people.

Vidyodaya works exclusively with the adivasi community and its children in the Gudalur Block of the Nilgiris District.

The authors are the founders of Vidyodaya School and have been teaching students and educating teachers. They can be reached at

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