In a quiet and dusty village of Jaisalmer in Rajasthan, students from the Bhil tribe did not have easy access to schools. The literacy was 44 per cent here, the lowest in India and one of the lowest percentages in the world. The caste system also played a relevant role in diminishing the chances of attaining education for this tribe. The parents thought it was better to have the boys learn how to rear sheep or do stone work rather than waste time in school. They chose to marry off their girls at ages as low as 11 years and they were kept at home so that they could be of help to their mothers.
In 2013, Frenchwoman Capucine Larmand who saw the situation here decided to do something to change the state of affairs. The idea for the Darbari primary school materialised in the year 2013, when Capucine asked her former class teacher Jacques Monteaux, Waldorf teacher and teacher trainer, for help. She convinced him, and he took charge of the project, whereupon all people involved in the project established a close connection.
Jacques Monteaux asserts that his aim is to help each student realise their true potential. “During my career as a teacher I have always been extremely touched by children and students who are ‘suffering’, who are ‘borderline’. No doubt that is a reflection of my own childhood. Through teaching, my main aim has always been to try to help each child to find a way to know the world and to know him or herself, as an individual. I believe that every human being, whether they are Western, Indian, Brahmin, Dalit, black or white, comes into the world with their own potential. Our job as teachers is to help each one to find this potential. The other important themes in my life are fraternity and solidarity. These qualities are especially important in these times and should have no barriers,” he explains.
The first big challenge Monteaux had to face was the decision of leaving his family and his life in France to live in Jaisalmer and to share the life of the Bhil in the Thar desert. And the bigger challenge was to begin the school project from nothing.
“Thanks to my deep personal connection with India, to the warm, supportive relationship that I have with my new Indian family, and to the joy of the children who come to our school, I can say that I have never ever wanted to give up,” Monteaux says.
Funding and getting committed people to work together was among the biggest challenges he faced. “In order to create this school and to get it working, I had to find money from France, Germany and England. I had to get people from these countries interested in a poor community who lived on the other side of the world. I had to find a team of young Indian teachers from different castes who wanted to work together to offer a better future to the children of this region,” he explains.
Protecting girl children from child marriages is another big challenge they face in the region. Speaking about the prime role education plays in preventing child marriages, Monteaux says, “In this harsh and very remote area of Rajasthan, the practice of child marriage is still very common. Several young girls who I have known over the past seven years have been forced into marriage at a very young age. For me, this is something shocking and upsetting and fundamentally wrong. I know that things are changing and that in more and more Indian states, families now wait until the legal age of 18 to get their daughters married. I also see the strength and the courage of Indian women who are mobilising against all the injustice and oppression that they face. I believe that in this context, education is more important than ever. School is the only alternative to child marriage.”
HOPE AND VISION
Monteaux emphasises that he attains hope through patience, belief in humanity and in what is fundamentally good in people. “And also through the joy and all the progress of the children we help. Lastly, and certainly not least, the incredible solidarity from our community of supporters and donors also gives me strength to overcome all the obstacles,” he maintains.
Monteaux quotes two great thinkers who perfectly express what motivates him: Rudolf Steiner, who created the teaching method that is used in Darbari and Khaled Bentounès who is a great thinker and the President of the Adlania Foundation.
“Our greatest task should be the development of free human beings, who are capable of giving themselves an aim and a path in life. The need for creativity, the sense of truth and the feeling of responsibility are the three forces underlying education.” - Rudolf Steiner
“Promoting an education of awakening, which teaches that all humans despite their differences make up a single truth. Being conscious of this allows peace, generosity, connection and the desire to strengthen the humanity in ourselves. From this perspective, respect for all life becomes a sacred principle." - Khaled Bentounes
Today, the Darbari Waldorf school has classes full of students eager to learn and who are confident in themselves. Monteaux hopes to inspire more people to take up work to uplift the downtrodden, to fight against caste and to reach out to the ones who need help. “I hope that by hearing about our work at Darbari other people may be inspired to create similar projects. Being invited here today - thanks to ScooNews - is a wonderful opportunity to reach other people who feel that they want to help in this way. I hope that all these small steps forward will mean that everywhere in the world, solidarity and brother/sisterhood can connect all human beings,” he hopes.
Image Courtesy: Malenbai
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