Tucked away in one of the many hills in Katraj, Vision International Centre is a place full of stories and dreams. The residential school started by Puranik Foundation in Samarthagad is dedicated to educating underprivileged children and improving the quality of their lives through sustainable and simple means.
The Puranik Foundation is run by a family which takes an open-minded and authentic approach to educate, build families and bridge communities. As a family, the founders believe that they are all interconnected in some way. For them, learning is lifelong, impacts generations and therefore an integral part of society.
The school has students from villages across Maharashtra and focuses on a holistic method of education through outdoor classrooms and daily activities incorporated into the curriculum.
Recalling the foundation year, Bhakti Salunkhe-Puranik, communications & design director, says, “With a vision to give back to society, my grandmother, Rekha Puranik moved back to Pune from the US in 2000. She wanted to work to eradicate social evils like poverty, illiteracy and unemployment faced by rural residents then.”
Since then, there has been no looking back. Salunkhe-Puranik says that in the beginning, her grandmother would actually go from door to door in the neighbouring areas and encourage the parents to send their children to school, so that they could have quality education and life.
Their mission, says Salunkhe-Puranik, is to enrich lives by providing educational opportunities and creating a supportive social, physical and concentrated environment to eliminate poverty. “From the very beginning, when Mummaji came down to India and started the school, we’ve always believed in providing educational opportunities that would open the minds, nurture the environment and empower the spirit,” she says.
The school follows the state board and the curriculum is taught in English. “The children can also choose between music and dance or attend both to improve their skills. We focus on a holistic method of education where we take our classrooms outdoor and incorporate daily activities into our curriculum,” Salunkhe-Puranik says.
She is happy to add that the students take their music extremely seriously. Recalling an incident she says, “When I called the children playing music instruments and singing at the regular jamming sessions a band, they rightly corrected me and said, ‘We are an orchestra, and not a band’.”
The day begins early at the school, Salunkhe-Puranik says that the children exercise in the morning. It is followed by school classes and a play session at the end of the day. What’s more, the students also get a ‘nap time’ in between classes, she says with a smile.
The children come from various backgrounds and are encouraged to converse in English whenever a guest is visiting them. “They love telling stories and are extremely expressive,” Salunkhe-Puranik says.
At the school, a simple yet sustainable life is promoted through simple means. Salunkhe-Puranik points out that the power at school is generated through solar panels but sometimes when they have stage performances or retreats, they have to use the generator. “Ëven the water is stored all through the monsoon in the well and tanks which lasts for an entire year,” she says.
Challenges are a part and parcel of our life. But it is important to keep going. “We do not need donations, we need people to give us their time,” she says mentioning that it is extremely difficult to get teachers who can come down to the school and work there, “Not only because it is far away but also because they have so many inhibitions regarding the children who study here, due to their background.”
Impact India, which is also a part of the Puranik foundation, is a service and leadership programme designed for high school students from the US to stay at their site and experience cultural immersion. “We have developed a 10-day workshop for students to learn about Indian culture and values and introduce them to our festivals, traditions, arts, languages, and many other things,” Salunkhe-Puranik says, adding, “This opens the students’ minds to new possibilities and ways of living.”
Talking about the future of the foundation, Salunkhe-Puranik says that they strive to make education not only affordable but also available for all, because they truly believe that it is only through quality education that a person can enrich their own life and take the nation forward.