Unplugged in Chaparda by Veeral Dhanani

Summer 2005


Veeral with some of
the students

I was lucky enough to spend a week in Chaparda during the summer of 2005. My parents had told me about the school and I had visited the web site, but I still wasn’t sure exactly what to expect. The idea of a charity funded school that provides education, accommodation and provisions to more than eight hundred underprivileged boys from rural Gujarat just seemed a little bit weird, a little bit too good to be true.

I wanted to visit Chaparda for three reasons: I wanted to make a short film about the school; I wanted to try and teach English there for a few days; and I wanted to see what life was like in a place without shiny buildings, shopping malls, multiplexes, bars, clubs, restaurants, television, the internet, advertising, welfare and everything else that is simply an everyday part of life in wealthy countries.

I arrived a few days before school opened and I had a look around. The compound itself was massive, resembling a University campus rather than a school; a University campus with an on site dairy farm! There were dorms for the students, a kitchen and a dining block, a science block, and of course the main school block. There was also a games field, where students could spend their time playing various sports including cricket and volleyball. Most impressive were the vast acres of farmland which surrounded the school, making it self-sufficient in many ways. During my stay, I also heard talk of installing wind powered turbines to generate electricity for the school and feeding any excess back into the National Grid, the ultimate goal of such ventures being total self-sufficiency for the school.


Boys enjoying themselves
in the Chaparda river on a
Sunday afternoon

Talking to the students was very humbling. Some were orphans, and others came from very poor families. None had been given the breaks in life that I took for granted, yet there was no indication that they saw themselves as victims. When I asked the younger kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, they invariably answered, “a cricketer!” The older kids seemed very focused and determined, and answers from them ranged from teacher to police officer to doctor. There also seemed to be a good vibe between the students and the teachers, a reflection of the fact that the teachers wanted to be there, and they were enjoying what they were doing.

Listening to Bapu talk was interesting. He walked slowly and he talked slowly, but he had accomplished many things in his past, and he had a very clear vision for the future: he embraced science and technology as a means to improve the quality of life for India’s villagers; and more importantly, construction was already underway of a boarding house at Chaparda for a hundred girls, so that they too could enjoy the same opportunities at the school as the boys.

Looking back six months later, a week was too short a time to spend at the school, and I hope that at some point in the future, I will not only return to Chaparda, but also stay there for a significantly longer period of time.

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