Prajna Vihar School Reports 1993 - 2000
1993 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
The Pragya Vihar school is a wonderful success. Ninety children
attend it now with an additional intake of thirty this year (1993).
We donated $1,860.00 which is nearly one third of the budget
for the year ... congratulations! The standard of education is
improving and a new teacher has been hired. Also, administration
duties are now being taken care of by an Indian employee. This
year a feeding program is being initiated for the children ...
one meal per week and some vitamin tablets daily. The present
school building with construction of mud brick and thatched roof
will probably only last one more year. This form of construction,
common to India, unfortunately has a limited life due to the
impact of the monsoon season. Rebuilding the school will be an
expensive hurdle for the future but for now everything is going
The change in the lives of the children is so marked ... from
poor, directionless children to smiling, happy and motivated
beings. One can honestly say their lives have changed for the
better. An observation made by a visitor was that the manner
in which they greet Westerners has changed ... from a thrust
of "Hallo ... 1 Rupee?" to simple warm communication
of "Hallo ... what is your name?"
A visit to the school was organised for participants of the
yearly meditation retreat. The guests were able to see the very
basic conditions by which the children learn and the children
were delighted to display some new skills ... performance of
a song and dance learnt at school and, for some, practice speaking
a few English phrases. A moving experience was had by all! As
a result, three new committee members were recruited from the
Brisbane contingent and a volunteer work party of young men and
women from different countries of the world devoted a couple
of hours to the physical labour of digging trenches and moving
soil around the school. There was much display of blistered hands
1994 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
Visiting the school
After the yearly meditation retreat in Bodhgaya we were invited
to visit the Pragya Vihar school.
We were told that the school building was about a five minute
walk from town and seeing as the surrounding countryside is relatively
flat, I expected to identify the building quite easily, once
reaching the open paddyfields. This however was not to be the
case and it soon became clear that my preconceived western ideas
of what the building might look like were completely wrong. There
was nothing that resembled a school other than a few mudbrick
houses scattered around the fields, one of which had the children
waiting patiently outside for our arrival.
As we approached the humble little building, we were greeted
with a warm "Namaste" which is a traditional greeting
of respect. Without too much delay the children began their song
and dance show which they had apparently been rehearsing for
months. They were dressed in their best clothes for the big occasion
... and barefoot. The attention soon drew twenty or so nearby
village children who sat at a distance and watched on with envy
as the school kids demonstrated some of the fruits of their education.
After the entertainment, we were offered chai and biscuits
and we were free to inspect the building which by western standards
would only have accommodated a quarter or these kids. Both staff
and pupils at times showed a few nerves, as this was their major
fund raiser for the year and would obviously have a significant
bearing on the directions the school hoped to take.
It was a warming experience to see these children so enthused
and truly appreciative of their humble facilities which would
no doubt make a difference to theirs and others lives. We take
a lot for granted in the West and to be able to see through this
can be a real treasure in our daily activities and ultimately
in life itself.
With much appreciation
1995 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
I returned from Bodh Gaya earlier this month (March). I was
delighted with developments there for Pragya Vihar School. I
came away with the sense that the school and the committee is
on a very solid footing. Firstly the two storey building will
be complete by April, including electricity and fans. A short
documentary about the school is being put together by a director
from Sweden and will be used to help promote projects in the
The teachers are doing a wonderful job. The children are bright,
creative and intelligent. We raised $3000 (US) on our two fund-raising
days as well as witnessing a wonderful demonstration of arts
and music from the school children. Some of the influential local
figures of Bodh Gaya have become very supportive. The success
of the school has meant that some middle class families wait
to send their children to the school. We have formulated a questionnaire
to ensure that the children do come from the very poorest families.
It is never far from our minds that Bodh Gaya is the poorest
part of India. Poverty, violence, corruption and day to day struggle
are a feature of daily life in the area. Co-operation, practical
support and inter-religious understanding contribute to the welfare,
security and harmony of the people of the region. The Chief of
Police recently told me that there are many terrorists, dacoits,
armed gangs, Maoist activists and even self proclaimed independent
regions in and around Bodh Gaya. Yet local people do wish to
work together. A key factor is the education of children and
the upliftment of women.
Burmese Bhante, the Abbot of the Burmese Vihara, has done
a marvellous job in overseeing the project. The committee has
drawn up some clear guidelines for the children, who will number
about 200. Next year we may invite a number of westerners to
go to the surrounding villagers of Bodh Gaya to spend some days
there, to listen and to share. It may be the first step to form
a team of volunteers. There is a real spirit of inter-religious
co-operation and understanding, which I believe to be a very
significant statement in India, the land of such diversity of
1996 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
During each year newsletters are sent to us from the Pragya
Vihar School. One particularly inspired us and we wish to share
excerpts as our main report. The youngest teacher Rashida Katun,
who lives right opposite the school was asked to write about
"Since April 1995 I am employed at P.V. School. Teaching
here is like being transported back into the lap of my childhood.
The innocence and open love of the children make me believe that
here is real life. When I was asked to write about the school,
I thought why non. Let's ask the children too. They all responded
with such enthusiasm and began to write."
"My name is Kalpana KumarI, and I study here since
1990. I like the teachers and the way they teach. Later I want
to be a teacher and open a school in my village, because all
people there are illiterate. When the school is closed for holiday,
I am not happy to stay at home. The school is there to get education,
and from that comes one's own happiness."
Dayanand (class 6) wrote: "Before we were studying
in a small hut, but now we are so fortunate to study in such
a big building and learn so may good things. If we look back
we see improvement in ourselves. We behave well with each other.
In moral class we are taught how we can become good human beings."
He also included a poem writing about the school as "a
storehouse of the sweet smell of love."
Abdul Wajid, the new science teacher wrote: "I am
very touched by the love and discipline of the children. They
all want to lay a foundation for a happy life."
In Sumitra Devi's view it is: "...Especially the cultural
activities like drawing, singing, dancing & poetry which
have contributed a lot to the mental development of the children."
Sister Sheela and Sister Cecily: "We are happy indeed
to express our gratitude towards each one of you for your sincere
support which you render the P.V. School. When we look at the
children, we are thrilled to see their cheerfulness, self-confidence,
creativity, eagerness to gain knowledge, cleanliness, responsibility
& leadership qualities, and their zeal in learning about
the various cultures of our country and the world at large."
For those of you who may not be aware, the Pragya Vihar School
is of inter-religious character, where both on the teaching staff
and on the committee, Catholic nuns, Buddhist monks, Hindus and
Muslims and non-religious are working together.
The children attending also come from various secular traditions
and mostly from the lower castes.
At the half-yearly exam time, which stretched over six days,
245 children turned up. The average attendance at the school
is about 200 out of 260 children enrolled from nursery up to
class six. Often it is illness or domestic problems that prevent
LATEST BULLETIN FROM PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
275 children are enrolled for 7 classes and approximately
250-260 show up day after day. This year no students have fallen
seriously ill despite a now contained up-river cholera outbreak
which saw the death of locals. In January 1997 an 8th class is
planned providing we have the space and, we hope, the funds to
support more students. Building work resumed in June after the
summer monsoon season. The upper classrooms were needed to spread
sand for plastering so teaching was done on two shifts. As a
result more children took up home study work (the dreaded homework
has reached the East!) but it is a rewarding result to know that
home support exists. This will help dreams to be realised.
Building work completion with all paint work inside and out,
is due around now. Final cost figures are yet unknown but hopefully
a sizeable donation from a Swiss benefactor group will greatly
assist. School land was monsoon inundated, destroying most flowerbeds
and some tree planting, so there is a plan to raise funds to
repair a dead end canal behind the school. This would also allow
crops raising on adjoining land.
Pragya Vihar School
1997 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
I have just returned from yet another Indian adventure ...
the land of chai and curries ... where some of the best and worst
examples of humanity exist. Fortunately, we are interested and
associated with truly good expressions of life.
The Pragya Vihar school building ... a two storey really "pukha"
looking place ... nearly overwhelmed me. I actually thought someone
had built a hotel in front of our school! It's a great example
of what a consistent effort and a little money can do in the
third world. Furniture is sparse and the gardens are very young,
but still there is this feeling of permanence and solidness which
has enthused quite a few of the locals as well as visitors.
The children ... with the latest intake of over 400 .. look
and behave with dignity and assurance that touches the heart.
I felt grateful to be part of this project and to have made a
small mark on our planet of something truly good. The teachers,
caretakers and committee of the school are in great spirits.
They are all committed to helping the children and this care
... above the job ... is what seems to give the school a positive
feeling that is commented on by many. A few older children are
now talented enough to consider secondary education and we are
looking at ways to achieve that.
BDA committee member
THOUGHTS FROM THE STUDENTS
In February of this year (1997) a small library was opened
for the children. It contains more than three hundred titles
and new books and tapes are being added regularly. The library
is very popular with the children who often complain that they
can only take home one book at a time.
Sanjay, class 8, had this to say: "The library is
on the second floor and in it are chairs and a table and cupboards.
We can sit there and read in peace. Some children talk in the
library which disturbs those who want to read. There are books
about many different subjects. This is the only place where we
can still our hunger for knowledge. Books are our friends, they
light up the darkness of ignorance. The library is like a temple
in which the goddess of learning lives, and as long as we stay
there in silence, so long we live in the world of knowledge,
inspiration and joy."
Arun, also in class 8, writes: "From reading books
we can attain such knowledge so that we can improve our character.
In the books of our library we don't find anything that leads
us onto wrong ways. We choose to read about good things which
we try to practice in our life. The same thing we read in the
books we also hear from our teachers. Reading opens our heart
and develops life."
Sangeeta, class 6, writes: "When I feel happy I am
unable to explain how happy I am. It seems that in moments of
small joys we can find a larger happiness. I also feel happy
when I make effort and pass exam, or when something that was
lost or had disappeared comes back again. When we have a guest
at home we feel happy, and we celebrate our festivals with much
joy. We cannot hold happiness but we can feel it and experience
it. When we feel angry we say many angry words. Even when then
someone speaks good we find something bad in it. I get angry
with myself when I lose something. In anger we can beat and abuse
someone. When I am angry my body begins to shake and tremble.
In anger a person poisons or drowns himself or kills someone.
So anger is very dangerous. I don't like anger at all."
Sommanti, class 8: "In our school were several friends
who left school some months ago. In our class was a girl Chandra,
she also left school. If again she came to school I would be
so happy! But no-one can prevent such coming and going. There
are several reasons. On our social level we see that the parents
marry off the children at a very young age. At 12 or 13 they
make their children leave the school and don't allow them, the
girls, to go out anywhere special. So girls cannot follow their
wish and continue studies; mostly this happens with girls only.
Because in the village many people are illiterate, they often
not only waste their own lives but also spoil the lives of others.
So girls are forced to leave the school."
1998 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
Support for Further Education
We are very happy to report that 15 out of 16 children who
left Prajna Vihar School have decided to go onto further education.
The committee for the school wished to encourage the children
to continue their education after they had finished their 8th
But obviously the decision rested with the parents and children
themselves. This means that 15 children will now attend other
schools beyond 8th year.
The children did not need any encouragement. They spend a
lot of time collecting information about the different schools,
the standard of the schools, the number of children in each class
and quality of teaching.
The school of choice for the boys is in the grounds of the
nearby Magath University. This school offers only space to children
from more privileged families. Eleven boys have enrolled in the
school confidant that they can manage to find the monthly fee
of $3.50 (US). Four girls from the Prajna Vihar School now study
in a girls only higher education school nearby. As Harijians
(lower caste), they are entitled to half-yearly national stipends
to cover costs of attending the school.
The Prajna Vihar School paid for all the registration and
schoolbooks and for the month until the summer holidays. The
school has also set up regular extra tuition for them to help
with a smooth transition.
The teachers at the Prajna Vihar School and committee are
delighted with the determination of these teenagers to continue
their process of learning. In future, it will make a significant
difference to the economy of their villages. We must not forget
that these children come from the poorest families of Bodhgaya.
The second major development at the Prajna Vihar School concerns
the new addition of two new classrooms plus four new toilets.
Now the biggest school in Bodhgaya, there are more than 360 children
going daily to the school. One of the main problems for the school
is during the monsoon season when the grounds around the school
flood due to the torrential daily rainstorms.
It was decided to build a raised walkway to enable the children
to reach school in the monsoon period. The walkway will include
small bridge across the nearby flow of water.
We have 11 teachers and two assistant teachers to take care
of the children. Early this year, 55 new children were admitted
into the school into two new classes. The school continues its
careful selection process to admit children from the poorest
families. The teachers went in pairs to the nearby hamlets to
see first hand the domestic situation and explain to parents
the school's criteria for selection.
But the school needs more land. We have approached the owners
of the neighbouring land but the asking prices are not realistic
at all even though the school is the only potential buyer. We
know that if we show too much interest in the land, the price
will go up!
The school continues to run on the basis of free education
for the poorest children on a comprehensive and practical education
and expansion of the arts. The school is 100% reliant upon the
kindness of people around the world. A huge thank-you from all
of the children.
Pragna Vihar Committee Member
1999 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
On my last visit In January 1992, the Pragya Vihar School
was a mere handful of students in a hired tent, in the corner
of a fallow field on loan. The only furniture was a sack on the
bare ground; the curriculum was ad hoc. In mid- December 1998,
I arrived at an impressive three- storey building, thronged with
well- dressed smiling children, who were eager to practise their
limited English on me. The only outstretched hands belonged to
those who wanted to hold mine. This was in sharp contrast to
the outstretched hands of children around the temple complex.
They had come to attend the final assembly for the year, the
great occasion where the highest achievers received an award.
Being received as guest of honour, I was given the task of giving
out the prizes - a report card and a bar of soap - a delightfully
humbling experience. The feeling of having contributed, in a
small way, to such a successful endeavour, overshadowed all but
a few of my personal achievements, as a teacher of 20 years,
here in Australia.
THE SCHOOL COMMUNITY
As of January this year the total number of students enrolled
is 350 from nursery (age 5-7 years) to year 8. The current enrolment
policy selects only one child from the poorest of families in
which both parents (if two parents exist) are functionally illiterate.
A teacher currently gives graduates from the last two years tuition,
in their own self-study, in the evenings each day. There are
currently 23 students in year 9 and 12 students in year 10. However,
this is quite unsatisfactory as students do not get official
qualifications for this study. There are 12 teachers and 2 non-teachers
on staff. Teachers are paid about $60.00 per month with the three
sisters on staff being 'paid' by their order.
Currently the subjects taught are Hindi, English, Maths, Science,
Social Studies, Geography, Sanskrit, Moral Science (presumably
some form of comparative religion), General Knowledge and Civics.
The school is open from Monday to Saturday and runs from 8.55am
- 5.00pm in the winter and 6.55am - 11.45am in the summer with
a meal break of 45 minutes. There are a few extra curriculum
activities, which include quizzes, singing, drawing, poetry and
dance, etc. More formally, a music teacher is brought in who
teaches tabla and harmonium to a group of about 23 students.
116 students from years 6 - 8 are involved with Toru Mkra (Friends
of the Trees) and are engaged in planting trees, an environmental
consciousness in the Bodhgaya region. Also, extra classes are
organised in drawing, stitching and other handicrafts, for the
poorest children. (How much poorer can they get?)
Over the last year, two new classrooms have been added to
the top of the building and four toilet cubicles have been added
behind the building. These were kept locked while I was there
because 'the children had to be educated in how to use them'.
Although the school is located a mere 10 minutes walk from the
centre of Bodhgaya, it is surrounded by fields and presumably
these were the only toilets to date. These building projects
complete the possible development at the existing site.
A NEW SCHOOL
Because of the needs of the continuing students and the ever
present pressure to increase the school's enrolment, a decision
was made at the schools AGM to buy cheaper land on the other
side of Bodhgaya, to start a new middle school to cater for years
7 - 10. This is the most significant development since we started
raising money for the project. The projected costs are somewhat
alarming - $68,000.00 for the building alone, but as someone
at the AGM said, "we can do it the way we built this school
- the Indian way. We can start again with a mud hut, if we have
to." Suddenly, I am brought back, once again, to the realisation
that when you have the right people, the right intention, the
costs are not important. A way will be found, after all a school
is primarily a community, not simply a pile of bricks - so different
from our habitual way of thinking here. As I write this, the
words of Paul Kelly keep arising - "From little things,
big things grow".
LETTER FROM THE SCHOOL (17/05/99)
Dear BDA Committee Members,
Greetings from the sisters, teachers and students of Bodhgaya.
Hope these few lines may find you fine. Since many months have
passed we have not given any news from here. Summer has begun
and we have to give early our summer vacation. Children have
finished their half-yearly examination. From 11th of May up to
20th of June we have our summer vacation. We are planning to
re-open our school on 21st of June.
This year we have various activities in the school. This time
our students have attended various competitions. They got a medal
and certificate for each item. Among 87 schools and colleges,
our students stood first in group dance, second in group song
and light vocal too. It was very nice and a good experience for
Secondly, we had our parents meeting. Around 275 parents participated
in it. Students had beautiful cultural programs. Parents were
given snacks and tea. They were given time to speak about the
school, the activities, etc. They were very happy to see the
progress of their children.
Ex students are continuing their study in many private and
Government schools. Some of them are doing well. Some of them
have left their studies. They are supporting their family; working
in small shops and other ways. Some of them are trying their
best to study in good schools, but it is not possible to put
them due to some reasons. Especially our school is not registered.
Yet they are finding their own way for their higher education.
Burmese Bhante has given fans for the school and two more
new rooms also are now completed. For the students it is quite
a relief in this terrific heat.
We are planning to have millennium celebrations in the month
of December. Hope you are able to join with us. Now let me wind
up here with lots of prayerful regards for your successful work.
Thanking you for your great support.
Sr. M. Anjali SRA.
2000 REPORT - PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
Last year's articles on the school as reported by our committee
member Keith O'Neill who visited Bodhgaya were very expansive
and full of the spirit of Bodhgaya and the school. This year
our report is more basic and a little scant. Keith visited Bodhgaya
again in November en route to the U.K. and other destinations,
and has said that so far as news of the school goes not much
has changed. It seems the growth that has taken place over the
years has plateaued out and this could be expected as the growth
since inception has been impressive. There are a few success
stories such as the continued success of the cultural program
resulting in the dance team winning a competition involving nearly
100 schools in the area. Education, including the cultural program
and dance, is vital to the essence of the students and local
community. Prior to the students' introduction to the school,
the illiteracy and hard life of these very poor resulted in a
lack of knowledge of their inherent culture and of the dance
and music which we, who have a connection to India, regard as
so very rich.
Enrolment last year was 350, and some 400 presently attend
the school, with 354 students sitting the annual exams in December.
Some failed these end of year exams, and consequently have not
progressed to the next grade. This is a twofold conundrum. The
failure is sad for the students who have to surmount immense
hardships just to regularly attend school and bring some energy
to their place of learning. Considering these hardships it would
not be an easy decision to refuse progression to the next grade
and risk demoralizing the student, but the school's 'integrity
approach' could be more beneficial to long term growth and value
setting of the students by reinforcing the need to reach the
set standard. I'm sure we can all relate to the level of personal
satisfaction we feel when we discipline ourselves and overcome
a failure. To simply 'turn a blind eye' to the exam failures
could lead to higher and more entrenched levels of failure for
these students throughout life. The school is looking at the
feasibility of building a high school, which would allow the
more capable students to continue education to a higher standard.
We will keep you informed of progress. Last year's expenditure
for the running of the present school was around $16,000 and
the budget for 2000 will be higher.
PRAGYA VIHAR SCHOOL
I took the afternoon off one of the retreats to go to the
AGM where all the news was aired. It was an amazingly low-key
affair, which could be compared with a village pigeon fancier's
society AGM here, in rural Essex. Not much to report on the school
as things seem to be running very smoothly and without great
The high point of the meeting was when chai & gulab jamuns
came around. I think Thomas has sent you the AGM minutes to which
there is little to add. The most surprising news to me was that
any further expansion of the school, including land purchases,
seems to have been put on hold until the trust has been formed
which ensures the school's legitimacy. Apparently the Bandaris
in Delhi are seeing to that and all being well it may be complete
by July or August.