We are operating in a rural village named Singhpur, which is situated half kilometer from Sarnath, the holy place for Buddhists who come to Sarnath from all over the world. Sarnath is the place where Buddha gave the first teachings about the 4 Noble Truths. 90 percent of the women living in the villages around the school were illiterate against 70 percent of males. When we started the project (in 1994) the parents of our students were living with dignity, working on their own handlooms making sarees. They could just make enough income to survive. Then the industrial revolution began; the handmade sarees have now been replaced by those made by industrial-machines. The cost of the sarees dropped. Hundreds of workers have been compelled to leave their old jobs, many becoming unemployed. In this way, almost 60/70 percent of the parents of our children are struggling to make their living as day laborers, servants, and street vendors. As a consequence, the number of people suffering from alcoholism and depression has increased at an alarming rate. The handloom crisis has brought much misery and despair to many of our students’ families.
Bihar, a challenging environment
When in 1998 we decided to open our school in Bihar, this was the situation we found, according to the description of the journalist Rakesh Sinha, printed in Hard News:
“Today, the picture that Bihar presents is that of a state sunk in gloom. Abduction seems to be the only industry that is thriving; investment is negligible; schools and colleges do not provide anything even close to an academic environment: caste- and corruption-based politics dominate the campuses; honest duty faces the maximum danger; and health services are prohibitively expensive”
It was a challenging task to implement Alice Project education in this very difficult social and political environment. In spite all the difficulties, we choose to work in the villages of the rural areas (Barbatta, Dandawa and Sijua), with a consistent number of people from Lower Castes. Today we have 14 teachers and about 370 students from kindergarten to class IX.
School starts – depending on the season – at 7.30 in the morning and finishes at 1.30pm every day except Sunday (and some Indian holidays). Some children return for afternoon classes.
As well as conventional Indian syllabus subjects, that comprises: Math, Science, Hindi, Sanskrit, English, History, Biology, Chemistry and Geography, the following eclectic range of subjects is taught throughout the year:
- Philosophy and ‘special program’ subjects are taught to all students.
- A yoga training program and vipassana was incorporated into the curriculum in 2000 and every class does yoga at least once a day.
- During weekends yoga and meditation retreats for the older students are held at the school.
- Folk songs are sung every morning, in various languages like Hindi, English, Italian and so on.