Ten years ago, a corporate honcho who had earlier quit his high-profile job to answer a divine call to his native land, launched his first initiative in 2008 – an educational institution! The first batch of 70 students was enrolled into Swami Vivekananda Rural Community College (SVRCC) at Keezhputhu Village, Kanaga Chetty Kulam in Tamil Nadu, near Pondicherry. The two-acre property, which G. V. Subramanian (GVS) bought with his savings had just one large thatched hut to house these students. Batches of students would sit cross-legged under the shade of trees to learn.
It all began on a train journey a few years earlier when GVS struck up a conversation with Dr. Xavier Alphonse, the Director of Indian Centre for Research & Development in Community Education (ICRDCE). Enthused by the idea and driven by the ideals of such an educational initiative, GVS quit his job and persuaded his wife to leave the comforts of a city life and a corporate job to enrich the rural landscape with the much-needed education and skilling for the youth.
Under the Sadguru Sri Gnananda Seva Trust, which was formed in 2006, GVS set his ideas and plans in motion when he requested Pujya Swami Sri Dayananda Saraswati to perform the Bhoomi Puja on January 18, 2007. With the starting of the courses for the first batch of students in 2008, the Tamil Nadu Open University recognised the courses conducted at SVRCC in August 2008.
A high-level delegation from Papua New Guinea visited SVRCC under the aegis of ICRDCE in 2009 and was charmed by the approach, methodology and facilities of the institution. Thereafter, GVS undertook the construction of the first college building in 2010 and following its completion, the National Conference of Community Colleges was conducted in September 2013, with a participation of 106 delegates from 103 colleges in 14 states.
GVS says that the Trust has identified three distinct aspects of India’s growth that would be positively impacted by effective and focused community education:
l Community Education will be a prodigious source of employable young people – a resource that is critical to the ambitious economic programmes of our nation.
l Community Education will enable distribution of the benefits of economic development across the whole population of India.
l Community Education will help villages and small towns grow technologically and create sufficient job opportunities in the districts, thus reducing the compulsion to migrate to metros and cities.
“SVRCC provides quality education that is aligned with employment opportunities. Besides, an entrepreneurial mindset is sought to be promoted among the more enterprising youth. Both of these will be essential for the achievement of the ‘economic superpower’ status targeted by the country,” says GVS. “The Trust aims to educate and place at least 3,000 young men and women in the next five years. In eight years, the college has rejuvenated 1,094 families in the neighbourhood and infused new hope in the youth whose prospects appeared bleak at one time. As each family’s fortunes are revived, the multiplier effect is immense, and we can see economy prospering at all levels – not just in the big cities and towns.”
The surrounding villages of the SVRCC campus belongs to economically weaker sections of the population and GVS found that the students who enrolled for the different skill-based courses were school dropouts, children from juvenile homes, broken homes or from single-parent homes and many of them were destitute children. There were also orphans, street kids, children from families of fisherfolk, street vendors, autorickshaw drivers, daily wage workers and even children of convicts. “Most of them used to be unruly, dull, directionless, disgruntled, addicted to bad habits and with negative traits. Their behaviours used to be truly appalling, frightening and shocking. Slowly but steadily, with patient and caring teachers and instructors, counsellors and trainers, as well as like-minded corporate officials and collaborators, we were able to mould them into youth of substance. Providing them with free nutritious diet, encouraging them to play sports, involving them with various initiatives from our collaborators have had a positive impact on the psyche of the students,” says GVS.
With a view to empowering them with skills and self-earning capabilities, SVRCC introduced skill-based courses in refrigeration & air-conditioning, automobile mechanism, computer hardware servicing, housing and building electrician, plumbing technology, computerised accounting and office management, fashion designing and garment making, general duty nursing assistant, industrial technician, hospitality and housekeeping, CCTV service and installation and also a beautician course. GVS stated, “We have signed up long-term collaborations with corporates like Yamaha, Danfoss, Schneider, Grundfos, Medall, Siemens, Cognisant, Redington, Dell and others, who have set up their own labs on our premises. They train our faculty and provide all technical, practical and theoretical help to educate our students in skills which will go a long way in making them independently earn a living, either by setting up their own workshops or by joining the collaborators’ establishments.”