Raquel Mason is a Spanish woman who has made India her home for the past ten years so she can educate and empower Dalit children, senior citizens and women who live on the fringes of society.
Raquel first fell in love with India’s rich cultural heritage when she travelled here in 1998. She visited Bodhgaya, Bihar, again in 2006 for a Buddhist retreat and became better acquainted with rural India.
She also familiarized herself with the caste system prevalent in the region and met some Dalits who were oppressed and discriminated against on a daily basis.
She was emboldened to help the Dalit community when she met a 5-year-old boy named Akshay in Amwan, a village near Bodhgaya. Akshay was very sick. But, despite her paying for his treatment, his life could not be saved.
The lack of proper healthcare, education and sanitation facilities among the Dalit communities in Bihar motivated her to return to Spain and raise funds for them.
“In 2008, I took the decision to make my life more useful to others. So I quit my job in Spain and sold my house to pay for my expenses. I moved to Bodhgaya to develop a project that would benefit Dalits through education,” says Racquel.
Today, through her two initiatives in education, Akshy Educational Centre and Kamal school, Racquel and her team are teaching 220 children. Half the seats in the schools are reserved for girls. Most of the students are studying in primary classes but, recently, the team started educating another 20 children in higher classes too.
All expenses of the students, from food to tuition, are taken care of by the schools.
In 2016, their first girl student passed her matriculate exam with 82% marks. This was an exceptionally proud moment for the Akshy Foundation because their student was the first Dalit girl from Amwan village to pass this exam.
Raquel thinks the education that Dalit children receive will take them a long way.
“I hope that the Dalit children can have the same opportunities in the future as other Indian children. If they get a good education they can get good jobs and their families and communites can prosper. But, it is also very important that this Dalit movement should happen without violence and with respect towards all. Education will give them the tools to stand up for their ideas and discuss their rights as Indian citizens,” she says.
A unique project undertaken by the organisation is the 16 Guideline programme. The students follow 16 Guidelines, which, Racquel believes, are values that people across the world should practise regardless of caste, class, race, and gender. These values are kindness, responsibility, empathy, patience, etc.
“Every month we choose a Guideline and through meditation, reading biographies, and discussions, we try to integrate these values into our lives. We believe that if children develop these qualities now they will always be happy regardless of the work they do in the future. They will be able to contribute to peaceful communities and resolve problems with their neighbours without resorting to violence.”
The organisation also recruits volunteers from countries outside India so that the children become more tolerant and broadminded through exposure to world issues.
Raquel believes a nation cannot prosper as long as there are groups or communities that are marginalized and treated unfairly. She hopes to keep fighting against discrimination and working for a more equal society. To help her in this fight, you can donate here.
To know more about the Akshy Foundation, visit their website.