His Free School Is Moulding Visually Impaired Kids Into Civil Servants & Entrepreneurs

This school for deprived and visually challenged kids trains them to be civil servants and entrepreneurs right from the time when they are very young. Those who don’t have much themselves are taught the importance of giving back to society. And the amazing founder of this institution teaches them by personal experience.

What would you say about a modern-day school that churns out self-empowered, multi-dimensional and sensitive individuals who give back to society? Where progress is led by example and not just exams, where character is as important as curriculum and compassion scores over competition? Where prospective students do not have to line up with their parents in long admission queues, but are instead embraced as new members of the family without even having to pay a rupee?

If this doesn’t sound unreal enough yet, here’s another fact: this school has been providing free housing, food, clothes, vocational training, and formal education — from nursery to post-graduation — to underprivileged, visually challenged and sighted children since 1998.

And what’s more, the free residential school does not receive any financial aid from foreign or government bodies.

It is the belief and intention of the founder, Sri Acharya Rakum, to make people share and be part of the struggle to house, feed, clothe, and educate the 600 children who he considers his own.

A classroom at the school, with the tree for a pillar and an asbestos roof

A classroom at the school, with the tree for a pillar and an asbestos roof

Even children from distant villages and tribal areas come to join this school and nobody has ever been turned back. A blackboard outside the school lists the most urgent requirements of the children every day, such as soaps, shampoos, milk, and other daily rations. Rakum says that half of the school’s needs are fulfilled by the kindness of passers by who respond to the list. The other half is where the struggle lays — a hand-to-mouth existence that is a constant challenge for the school.

The beginning

The college area of the school. These scantily equipped classrooms have seen extraordinary grit and competence.

The college area of the school. These scantily equipped classrooms have seen extraordinary grit and competence.

Acharya Sri Rakum School for the Blind was founded in Bangalore back in June 1998, for children who are born blind or visually impaired. Today, it has three branches across Bangalore, providing quality inclusive education, nutrition and a loving home to a total of 600 visually impaired as well as sighted students.

The founder, Rakum, is a karate world champion who made a world record back in 1988 by breaking nine slabs of ice with his forehead. Having a four-wheeler drive over his chest, is one of his other daredevil feats from his karate championship days. He is also a multi-linguist who speaks several languages, including Japanese. He has good knowledge of naturopathy, which he uses to maintain high immunity levels among the 600 children. Apart from his various fields of knowledge and expertise, he also seeks to instil values in the children with his own example. When two elderly women came begging for food one day, the children told them they had no food as they had just finished eating. But Rakum told the children to bring his lunch for the two old ladies, and since then he says, the children are eager to follow his example of generosity and compassion whenever they see anyone in need.

Who are they helping?

Yes, she’s looking at you

Yes, she’s looking at you

The school works with children belonging to families below the poverty line, and children who have been shunned by their families and denied a childhood. The idea is to give them the opportunity to grow up into self-sufficient adults. There are four projects run by the school:

Pension Scheme for Elderly Women: For women above 65 years of age, in seven slums in the city.
Helping Hands Project: Helping sustain 300 young widows.
Little Friends Project: Encouraging slum children to attend government schools, by providing them school supplies and daily rations if they enroll.
Disabled Project: Providing medicines, Braille books, jobs and basic supplies to the physically/visually challenged above the age of 30.

How was the idea implemented?

The classroom area stands swamped with an afternoon’s rain, while the kids and the in-house pets play ball

The classroom area stands swamped with an afternoon’s rain, while the kids and the in-house pets play ball

Seeing the pain and suffering of so many children moved Rakum to start this noble initiative by giving up his flourishing career in martial arts. He says he realised one day that power can be destructive as well as creative, and he felt inspired to choose the latter. Ensuring a life of dignity and self-sufficiency to all its children is the goal of this school.

Extra-curricular activities take on a whole new dimension in this school. They start with yoga, karate and cycling as part of their daily time-table and extend to cooking, carpentry, basic plumbing, and electrical repairs on Saturdays. From class 6 onwards, children receive training as cooks in the kitchen. Sri Acharya Rakum says that with this culinary training, all the children can start their own restaurants and bakeries once they are adults. And once the sighted children turn 18, he makes sure they acquire driving licences for both two-wheelers and four-wheelers. With the amount of yoga and karate lessons they receive throughout, they also have the potential to teach these things anywhere in the world. Many of these children are already highly skilled yoga practitioners and even 3rd degree karate black belt holders.

A big part of the founder’s vision is that these children become civil servants and return to their villages to improve the lives people there. Thus children are trained for the Civil Services Exams from class 6 onwards.

The impact so far

Acharya Sri Rakum School 6

Karate lesson

This August, three students from the school wrote the Civil Services Exam. Also, some of the postgraduate students from the school are now the directors and headmasters in different schools. The current headmistress of the Indiranagar branch is an ex-student who completed her M.A. and B.Ed degrees from the same school. A sighted child of visually challenged parents recently graduated and wrote the Civil Services Exam as well. From being abandoned as children to becoming self-sufficient adults, it has been an invaluable journey for thousands of these students.

The challenges

Acharya Sri Rakum School 5

Sri Acharya Rakum with some kids

Rakum yearns to provide a bigger, better living space to the children. Right now, they have a cramped living situation in an old dilapidated building, with one bathroom for every eight children. The classrooms are small with asbestos roofs that cannot even keep out the rain. As a matter of principle, no new students are refused admission, even with its limited infrastructure and funds, and this makes the accommodation and care of 600 children an even tougher challenge than it already is. The donations he receives from the general public are just enough to meet the immediate and on-going needs of the school, and hence he isn’t able to set aside money as investments that can compound and yield returns over the years.

Through the blackboard outside the school, and their Facebook pages, children put forth their urgent requirements and the response has been enough for them to sustain and thrive over the years. But Rakum hopes to see more involvement from the general public; as he rightly points out, these children are the society’s responsibility, and not just his own. He hopes to be able to pool in enough funds to put together better classrooms and living spaces for all the children.

Future Plans

Acharya Sri Rakum School 7

From his Japanese martial art days, Rakum draws an inspiration that he passes on to all the children at the school: roar like a thousand warriors and you can feed a thousand people. He believes that there is nothing that his students are not capable of achieving, if only we as adults can offer them the basic necessities and an opportunity to grow into self-sufficient adults. He believes in giving the children their own fishing rods, rather than in fishing for them, so each of them can go on to help themselves and also others in need.

Donations to the school can be made to this account:
IDBI Bank Indiranagar, Bangalore.
Account no. 202104000009652
IFSC Code: IBKL 0000202
Or through the website www.rakum.org.

Know more about them through their Facebook page or contact Sri Acharya Rakum at [email protected]

All donations to Sri Rakum School for the Blind are eligible for tax exemption under Section 80G (5) (VI) of the Income Tax Act.

Like this story? Or have something to share? Write to us: [email protected], or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter (@thebetterindia).

About the Author: Namita Kulkarni is a nocturnal creature who sunlights as a writer, Yoga teacher and artist. She loves going where she’s never been, having (mis)adventures, dancing with words and music, learning new languages and stories. Currently based in Bangalore, she bares her soul at www.radicallyeverafter.com, tweets @namitakulkarni and instagrams @namita_nefarious

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