This is the inspiring story of Channa Raju, a child labourer who put himself through school to eventually become an aerospace engineer. His passion and dedication to education did not just put him on the path to a great career but also changed the lives of hundreds of underprivileged kids who did not have access to basic education, through his non profit organization Brahmi.
Channa Raju was the youngest of 12 children and the first in his family to go to school. Born in a village 35 km from Bengaluru, Raju belonged to a poor family that eked out a living from farming.
The only reason Raju was sent to school was so he would get a free meal.
“Getting a healthy meal was difficult for us. We could not afford to go to school. We were living in such difficult conditions that I did not even know what a college was,” recalls Raju.
However, Raju began to enjoy school and do well academically. He did part time jobs at a young age to arrange for money to pay for private English tuition. When he finished high school, he almost took up a job as a fitter mechanic owing to financial responsibilities towards his family. But two of his friends, Dr. Praveen Raja and Dr. Naveen Raja (who are also co-founders of the non-profit Brahmi), tore up his offer letter and encouraged him to pursue further education.
Raju then took admission in the Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning in Bangalore, and later joined Anna University to pursue Aerospace Engineering.
He finished his Master’s degree and started working at National Aerospace Laboratories. His friends were his pillars of strength during this period.
“I have come so far from where I started. I never imagined I would achieve what I have. I wanted to give back to society and do something for those who cannot afford education. So I joined hands with a few friends and started teaching kids under a tamarind tree in my spare time,” says Raju.
Raju established a school named Anjana Vidya Kendra.
Very soon, Raju had 80-85 students who wanted to learn. He continued to hold these informal classes for around 18 months and then decided to set up a permanent school. He wanted to mainly focus on providing quality education to migrant children.
In 2001, Raju established a school named Anjana Vidya Kendra in Desapandeguttahalli, a village on the outskirts of Bangalore, under the Brahmi Educational and Cultural Trust (Brahmi).
Anjana was constructed keeping simplicity as the main focus. Located amidst nature, it was built using natural and locally available materials.
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The school initially took in students up to Class 5 but has now been extended to Class 10. Raju hopes to soon turn it into a full fledged high school going up to Class 12.
“These students have been with us since childhood. Once they go to other schools they might forget what we have taught them here. So we thought it’ll be good if we provide them education till high school and then they can take their decisions about higher studies,” says Raju.
Raju is also working towards eliminating caste differences from among the students. Many students who are not allowed to go to temples outside due to their ‘low caste,’ are encouraged to enter the school temple and pray with all the students.
Raju’s goal is not to make engineers or doctors of the kids in his school. He wants to inculcate wisdom and crucial life lessons in the kids so they can choose the right path for themselves.
“They can be whatever they want. Even if they are mechanics or farmers, we want them to use the values we have taught them here,” says Raju.
Four batches of students have completed school at Anjana so far.
Funding the school was a hurdle, but thanks to support from friends and family, Raju was able to overcome the financial difficulties posed.
“One thing that worked for us was that we never wasted money on unnecessary things. We have a very basic school building, we involved community in everything and gained their trust,” says Raju.
Raju is now looking forward to Anjana becoming a high school. He also wants to start more educational programs for migrant children and open a hostel for the students.
Know more about Brahmi Educational and Cultural Trust here.