The ‘Good Karma’ Journey
by Sudha Menon Pune, Livemint.com, Jan 18, 2008
A global fund-raising programme to bankroll a school for under-privileged children, being run by villagers in Dharamshala is being funded by a charitable trust called Good Karma in London
A chance meeting between a London-based real estate developer and entrepreneur and the chief executive of a communications and training consultancy who also happens to be a practising Buddhist, has resulted in an extraordinary global fund-raising programme to bankroll a school for under-privileged children, being run by villagers in the tiny hill town of Dharamshala in northern India.
From 1 December, 2007, 30-year Jonny Knowles, who used to redevelop London warehouses into plush apartments and now runs Wishes-in-the Sky, a company that imports and sells Chinese flying lanterns, has been criss-crossing the globe on road, spreading the word about the St. Mary’s school at Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh. Till a fortnight ago, Knowles was accompanied by a team of three -- Michelle Attala, a documentary press photographer; Simon Buck, a well-known mural artist; and Mark Tarling, a disc jockey who runs his own training company for aspiring disc jockeys.
The school, which was started by sister Celia and the Institute of Sisters of Charity in 1998 out of a tiny mud hut and four children from poor families of the surrounding villages has now grown to have 410 students whose future is uncertain as the school does not have the money to grow it any further.
“These children could not make use of the elite school run by our own charitable society, Sacred Heart Higher Secondary School, as it is expensive and the syllabus is tough. Very few took admission in that school but dropped out because they could not cope with the studies. Some of them went to government-run schools but did not continue … It was then that the villagers asked us to start a Hindi medium school but finance was a major concern,” recalls Sister Celia Puthenpura, the brain behind the effort.
This year, as the first batch of its students appears for their matriculation, the school faces its toughest challenge ever. “Now that we are going to have a first batch of students passing out of the 10th class, we want to expand the school to the intermediate level so that they can study further. None of these students have the money to apply to private schools for further studies and they are aware of the condition of government schools,” Celia says.
”Besides, we are in sore need of one extra class room, a computer and science lab and money so that we can pay nominal salaries to teachers,” she added in an e-mail interview.