Four-and-half year old cherubic Kavi Arasi walked into the room and engaged in a lively conversation, I wondered what she perceived the world to be? She lavished affection and piggybacked on a person she calls "Kancho" (a term used to refer to the master in martial arts), I wondered who she imagined him to be. She is a bundle of joy and I could not take my eyes off her. Always in high spirits, she jumped around and was all ears to the sounds around her. Kavi or should I refer to her as Arasi (means queen in Tamil), as she is the queen of the Rakum School for the Blind. The rule of admitting children above the age two-and-half-years had to be bypassed when Arasi who was born blind was brought to the school when she was just six months old. She was frail and weak then. She is a livewire now.
Acharya Sri Rakum, an internationally renowned martial arts exponent is the founder of Rakum School for the Blind. The school at Indiranagar was established in 1998 and had a modest beginning with just three students. The success of the first school and the ever increasing number of students led to two more schools being established, one at Devanahalli in 2003 and the other at Arkavathy Layout in 2006. Currently there are 150 boarders in the Indiranagar School, 200 day scholars and 150 residents in the Devanahalli School and 25 boarders in the Arkavathy School. Life has come a full circle for “Kancho” (Achraya Sri Rakum is affectionately called “Kancho” by the children) who has transitioned from breaking world records in the field of karate to building lives of boys and girls who come to his schools from far and wide.
Sighted and visually impaired children study and stay together at the Rakum Schools. Each visually impaired child is paired with a sighted child who lends a helping hand when the need arises. The sighted children read from the blackboard and the visually challenged read from printed Braille books, but apart from this their education is the same. All students are provided free schooling, food and boarding facilities. Sri Rakum who has a black belt in karate and is also trained in yoga personally imparts lessons to the students. Slots are reserved for karate and yoga in the daily schedule. Music and dance are also part of the curriculum.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime”, says Sri Rakum. This is the principle behind moulding his children into able-minded youngsters who are capable of facing the challenges that lie ahead. Karate is for self-defense, yoga is for a healthy mind and body and music is for the soul. Until class four, classical music and dance are compulsory for all students. The sighted children above the age of eighteen are given driving lessons. Twelve students who have completed their post graduation and five students who have successfully graduated were appointed as directors of different functions of the school.
The campus at Devanahalli is much more than a school. It has a garden, a hundred-bed dormitory for boarders, a health care centre, a goshala (cow shed), a rainwater harvesting plant and a biogas plant. The children are taught to respect and live in harmony with nature. Cow urine mixed with water is used for watering plants, dish washing water is treated into ‘grey water’ and is used for cleaning the floors; cow dung is used in the experimental biogas facility; solar panels have been installed to tap solar energy.
While the primary focus is on educating children from underprivileged backgrounds and making them self sufficient, the Rakum Blind School is also engaged in various social initiatives. The first day of every month is “Seva Day”. Women above the age of 65, registered as senior citizens are given monthly rations and a pension of Rs. 100/. Rice, wheat, sugar, ragi, soap, toothpaste and a toothbrush are given to each person every month. Old clothes, utensils, footwear, medicines and household items collected from public donations are distributed. 850 people from six slums in Bangalore, across 19 districts in Karnataka and 11 districts in Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Maharashtra are beneficiaries of this program. Sarojamma, the president of the domestic workers union of Karnataka helps in coordinating the activities on Seva Day and ensures that the aid reaches the right people. “I can understand English and can even speak a few sentences. I have gone to China and got an award in New Delhi”, she says with immense pride. It was reassuring to see that a person who hails from a modest economic background could make a difference to the lives of so many people. Under the “Helping Hand” project about 200 single mothers are aided. Their children are provided stationary, medicines and rations. Unemployed visually challenged people over the age of 30 years can also avail the benefit of a monthly pension, supply of monthly ration and Braille items. When Sri Rakum visited the slums he was appalled to witness fights over bearing the cost of cremating the dead. He then offered to pay Rs.750/- to cover the transportation and costs towards cremation for each death in the slums that was substantiated by a valid death certificate.
Kancho is a simple man of few words. He lets his actions speak louder than his words. “I am always a fielder in this game”, he says. I just catch the ball from one side and throw it to another. What I get from the rich I give to the poor”, he adds with a smile.
For more information log on to www.rakum.org
This article was published in Deccan Herald on the 06th of April 2010. Below is the link to the online version of the article.