A geologist turned his back on fame and returned home to set up a village school
His is a story of dream, hope, grit, sacrifice and triumph. The hardships that he faced in accessing education in his childhood were so deeply etched in his psyche that Dr Shiv Balak Misra, a noted geologist, gave up his comfortable job in Canada and returned to his village in Uttar Pradesh to set up a school that has been providing education to rural children for the past 50 years.
गाँव कनेक्शन 9 Nov 2022 10:32 AM GMT
For Dr Shiv Balak Misra, a noted geologist from Deora village in Uttar Pradesh's Barabanki district, the year 1967 was a turning point. It was a milestone that not only marked the zenith of his career as a scientist but also the year when he decided to return to his roots and pursue a dream — to set up a school in his village.
Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, founded by Dr Misra and his wife Nirmala Misra, celebrated its golden jubilee in May this year. But what led to the geologist giving up his comfortable job in Canada and returning to his village in Uttar Pradesh to set up a school?
When Dr Misra was growing up, the nearest school to his village was 12 kilometres away. "When I was in primary school, classes commenced at 7 am. In order to reach the class on time, I had to wake up at 4 am and trek the 12 kilometres. I used to estimate the time by looking at the position of the moon," Dr Misra told his son Neelesh Misra, the noted storyteller and host of the interview series titled Conversations With My Father — a three-part short video series which is available on YouTube. It is based on Dr Shiv Balak Misra's autobiographical book titled Dream Chasing.
"I was compelled to return to India. I realised that my biggest aspiration was to ensure that a good school was accessible to children in my village," Dr Misra said.
In 1967, after winning a scholarship to Canada's Memorial University of Newfoundland, Dr Misra discovered a fossil at Avalon peninsula which, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), is the 'oldest known assemblages of large fossils anywhere in the world'.
Dr Misra reported his finding of a 'soft-bodied jellyfish like imprint fossil' which in 2007 was named in the honour of the geologist as 'Fractofusus misrai', and in 2016, the area was declared as a world heritage site.
"These fossils illustrate a watershed in the history of life on earth: the appearance of large, biologically complex organisms, after almost three billion years of micro-dominated evolution," UNESCO notes about the world heritage site.
A return to his roots
However, Dr Misra's success as a geologist was not enough to keep him in Canada. His childhood memories of daily walking several kilometres to his school kept disturbing him.
"One day, I woke up in the dark thinking that sunrise would happen while I was on the way to the school. I kept walking, but the sun was nowhere to be seen. Even after two hours and after I reached the school, there was no sun in the sky!" Dr Misra shared in Conversations With My Father.
"It was then that I realised I had woken up way too early. That was perhaps the moment when it dawned on me that my village desperately needed a school. That thought never left me even when I went abroad and it became my life's mission," he added.
In 1967, while basking in the recognition as a geologist on the world stage, he learnt about intense drought and famine in his country. This reawakened his longing for his rural roots and his memories of the hardships he endured accessing elementary education in his village.
Five years later, in 1972, Dr Misra, with support from his newly-wed wife Nirmala, established the Bhartiya Gramin Vidyalaya in Kunaura village of Uttar Pradesh, about 40 kilometres from the state capital Lucknow. Today, the school has nearly 1,000 students and it recently celebrated its golden jubilee.
Dr Misra returned to India in 1970 and bought land in the outskirts of his village to set up a school. He married Nirmala in 1972. The couple made it their mission to support the school and make affordable education available to the local kids.
The school ran initially in a thatched roof-building. It was a huge drain on their limited resources and Nirmala decided to shoulder the responsibility of running the school which allowed her husband to take up a job to pay the bills.
"Nirmala belonged to an agrarian family. There were times when she had to take grains donated by her parents and sell them to raise funds for the school," Dr Misra said.
"I realise now that it was my love for studying which kept me going. I had deep respect for my teachers. I believed that education was the key to success. I had an awe for educated people. I could think of no other way to become 'something' in life other than by studying. I think it's my fascination for academics which made me survive the hardships in my childhood," Dr Misra said.
"The same spirit of learning and the urge to provide better education opportunities to children in my village kept me going," he added.
A model village school
Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya today runs classes from pre-primary to 12th grade. The aim of the school is to make rural students self-reliant through quality education, and to run welfare schemes for elderly, women, and children. This includes schemes related to socio-economic welfare and environment awareness.
As part of a novel initiative by the Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, has set up a skill centre that imparts training in latest courses, such as graphic designing, to rural students to prepare them for the future job market. The school has been running virtual classes way before the COVID19 pandemic forced the world to switch to online schooling.
"After conventional education till class twelfth, students wander aimlessly in cities for jobs. We have set up a skill centre and initiated new courses so that they learn skills in different areas for instance, tally, housekeeping, camera [photography], repairing (mobile and computer), triple C [CCC or Course on Computer Concepts], Dr Misra told Gaon Connection. "This is how these rural students will develop confidence and compete with their urban counterparts," he added.
Recently, three students of the Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya — Mohini, Sarita and Madhu — got admission at the Kolkata-based International Institute of Hotel Management, thanks to Chef Ranveer Brar and a fellowship given to these girls by the institute.
"This is a life-changing intervention… This will change their life, inspire many girls to pursue their dreams," tweeted Neelesh Misra, who is trying to raise resources or a small corpus to support stay of these girls in Kolkata (Rs 10,000 per month per girl), pocket money, and money to support more students being groomed at the village school in Uttar Pradesh.
Much before the COVID-19 pandemic forced shutdown of educational institutes and made online learning a norm, Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya started long-distance online classes in 2019.
"The internet has reached villages. Rural kids want to learn new things, and there are teachers in urban areas who want to teach them. We are trying to make that connection through the Internet and virtual classrooms," Neelesh Misra told Gaon Connection. "When we started the virtual classes, this was the first school worldwide to impart education to kids through these classes daily," he added.
Volunteers from India to the United Arab Emirates teach these students English, Physics, Mathematics and tell them about their experiences. A classroom of 20 students with a 1:1 ratio of young boys and girls, study in this virtual classroom.
To support and donate to Bharatiya Gramin Vidyalaya, visit https://graminschool.org
Written by Pratyaksh Srivastava