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TBI Blogs: Meet Dr. Manga Devi, a Visionary, Teacher, and ‘Mother’ to Hundreds of Loving Children

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Few people are able to effectively bridge the divide between the urban and the rural populations in India, and be equally loved by both. Here is a stalwart lady who has made it her life’s mission to bring these two sections closer together through compassion, love, and dedication.

Born on July 1, 1937, Dr. Nannapaneni Manga Devi is the Founder-Secretary of Sri Venkateswara Bala Kuteer and Chetana Charitable Trust. She was born in Tenali, in the Guntur district of Andhra Pradesh. Dr. Manga Devi, after her post-graduation in History and Education, obtained her Doctorate in Early Childhood Education. Later, she joined the Government’s Women and Child Welfare Department to quench her thirst for service, which gave her an opportunity to undergo training at Gandhigram in Madurai. There, she physically witnessed the practicing of Gandhian principles. This motivated Dr. Manga Devi to get trained in the Montessori System of Education. She was convinced that children had to be nurtured with care, love, information, skills, and education to bring out the best out of them. Hence, she left her Government job to walk this new path.

Dr. Manga Devi’s close friend, who also shared the same ideologies, joined hands with her to work in the field of Child Development. In 1965, they set up a Montessori House of Children, Sri Venkateswara Bala Kuteer (SVBK), in Brodipet, the first of its kind in Guntur, with a single girl child.

By the eighties, Dr. Manga Devi was a trend-setter in pre-school innovative teaching techniques, wherein she integrated various aspects of nature and art into informal teaching modules.

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By 1975, the phenomenal success of the first school at Brodipet – which had become a Co-Educational English medium Secondary School – motivated her to start another branch at Shyamalanagar, which was affiliated to the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).

Dr. Manga Devi’s meeting with Saint Teresa led her to serve needy women and children. This brought a sea-change in Dr. Manga Devi’s vision, and led to the formation of the Chetana Charitable Trust, a multi-purpose rural project in Chowdavaram village near Guntur in 1990. She initiated this to emphasise on three aspects: security, education, development, and welfare of children; rehabilitation and employment of the destitute women; and, shelter and solace for the old in the lively company of the little ones from the Children’s Village.

The project houses multiple activities viz., Nandana, a rural school for underprivileged children; Ushodaya, a residential English-medium school; SVBK College of Education, for Bachelor of Education; a School on Wheels; Children’s Village, a home for the homeless children; Anganwadi Workers’ Training Centre for rural women; Sandhyaraga, a home for senior citizens; Srujana, a Centre for Fine Arts; Krishi, a vocational training centre for the youth; Vigyana Vani, the Science Park; Raksha, a home for destitute women; Jeevanarekha, a family counseling centre; and, Swastha, a rural health centre and Centre for Alternative Medicines.

The child education-focussed and eco-friendly campus of Chetana comprises of the Science Park, sculptures and educative figures made of non-biodegradable items, plants of various species and medicinal values, an Auditorium, the Centre for Fine Arts, a library with over 5,000 books, space for sports and games, a toy library, etc. Dr. Manga Devi initiated classes in the open, and gardening, as a therapeutic routine activity for the beneficiaries. Cultural and theatrical programs are also part of the children’s development program.

There is human- and nature-centered progress in her work.

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Nandana Grameena Patashala, a Telugu-medium rural school which was set up in 1992, provides free education facilities to child labourers, physically-challenged children, children from the orphanage, children of quarry workers, shepherds, labourers, and villagers. Currently, there are 520 children studying here.

Dr. Manga Devi has also set up three formal schools situated in the suburbs: Brodipet (981 students), Shyamalanagar (2,155 students), and Ushodaya English-Medium School (782 students), in Guntur. The children coming from affluent families who attend these schools are motivated by Dr. Manga Devi to visit and mingle with the children of the Rural School Nandana, the Orphanage, and the economically backward children in the rural areas so that they can develop humane qualities of sharing and caring and helping those in need by donating educational materials, mid-day meals, and uniforms required.

Since 1982, rural women and volunteers have been trained in the Anganwadi Workers Training Centres of Sri Venkateswara Bala Kuteer. Over the years, 27,436 women have been trained through various educational pedagogy and training modules. Legal literacy, women empowerment, child-care, food and nutrition, health and hygiene, awareness of HIV, women trafficking, etc. are the key subjects.

Special training programs are also organized for school principals, teachers and mothers.

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With her strong will, the skill and ability to tap resources, and through her wide network, Dr. Manga Devi could facilitate rehabilitation of unfortunate women and children in her rehabilitation centre Raksha.

Jeevana Rekha, the family counseling centre headed by Dr. Manga Devi, is known for its remarkable services in solving problems tactfully and successfully to sustain family ties. Thousands of families have benefited, and needy women and children are provided with shelter and opportunities to develop different life skills for decent living.

In 1993, Children’s village was set up in Guntur by a charitable organization HEAL (Health and Education for All), United Kingdom with Dr. Manga Devi as the Secretary. It shelters homeless and orphan children under the supervision and care of foster mothers. The children under the personal care and love by Dr. Manga Devi, are supported with shelter, food, education, health care, and training in life skills.

Currently, there are 200 children in the Children’s Village.

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Sandhyaraga (Home for the aged) is near the Children’s Village. It provides space for the old to mingle with the children and has helped fulfill the psychological needs of both, the young and the old.

In 2003, Dr. Manga Devi started the School on Wheels, an innovative project, to help children learn informally and playfully at their doorstep. Once motivated successfully for schooling, the children are later enrolled in mainstream schools. So far, around 1,200 dropouts have been mainstreamed from the surrounding 50 villages.

Dr. Manga Devi has been organizing adult and rural women literacy activities, legal literacy camps, awareness camps in health and hygiene, HIV awareness camps, water and natural resources conservation sessions, and afforestation in the nearby quarries of 50 villages around Chetana, in co-ordination with different Government Departments.

As Dr. Manga Devi strongly believes in reaching the community through the child, every outstanding girl-child of the rural school was gifted a toilet at home, to serve two purposes, viz. to encourage girl-child education, and create awareness about health and hygiene.

Children of SVBK city schools donate their toys and play-material for the use of the poor and orphan children of Nandana.

To take care of the health of the children, mega medical camps are organized by doctors who are alumni of Bala Kuteer.

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Krishi, a vocational training centre for the educated and unemployed youth, has been established to train them in tailoring, carpentry, electrical, plumbing, chalk-making, soft toys and basket-making, book-binding, and growing plant nurseries to make them self-reliant. It also conducts career orientation sessions.

Dr. Manga Devi has the strong support of over 6,000 alumni who have pledged to support her service activities in kind or cash.

Dr. Manga Devi asserts that the purity of all religions finds place in her philosophy of education. She indulges in creative pursuits by writing many books for children. Dr. Manga Devi has penned and composed music and choreographed numerous cultural activities, dance, dramas, and ballets for children. She has instituted the Dr. Manga Devi Bala Sahitya Puruskaram for honouring outstanding contribution to children’s literature, and for encouraging budding artists. Her passion and bonding have developed great team-spirit that motivates her co-workers to work effectively. Dr. Manga Devi, an epitome of love, is a visionary, a close friend, and a mother to all children.

Recently, on 7th November, 2016, Dr. Nannapaneni Manga Devi was conferred the Jamnalal Bajaj Award, in the category of Development and Welfare of Women and Children.

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Jamnalal Bajaj Foundation was established in 1977, in memory of Jamnalal Bajaj, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi. The Foundation aims to serve the ideals to which he had dedicated his life and promotes Gandhian constructive activities in which he was deeply involved during his lifetime.