At a day and age when technology has permeated almost every facet of Indian life, gaps still exist in villages like Birami Fanta, where education and development are still a distant dream for many. Add to this the harsh climate of the Jodhpur region and its close proximity to the Luni River (which literally means ‘river of salt’), and the region’s barren and infertile soil does not leave much to look forward to.
With a mission to spread light and hope in this forbidding land, Dr Sunil Nahar, who holds a doctorate in agriculture cost accounting, has sacrificed his degree and claim to fame happily, just to pave the way for basic education to reach the children of this rural outback. Thus, in 2002, the Society for Rational Development (SFORD) Jodhpur was registered as a non-profit organisation (NPO). Its mission was to work towards holistic rural development in the villages of western Rajasthan, with concentrative efforts on imparting quality education to children, under the inspiring leadership of ManishMundra and Dr Nahar, in their capacity as the chairman and director of SFORD respectively.
“Since childhood, my grandfather and my father inspired me with their vision and thoughts of animal welfare and the Gurukul philosophy of education, which fascinated me,” says Dr Nahar. “They showed me the path to explore something new that would bring about a change for the greater good of society. Finally, when my grandfather donated our ancestral land of 55 acres way back in 2000-02, I made a commitment to my family to walk the path and take up the cause they had initiated. Over time, the vision was expanded to provide basic education to children who provide economic support to their families and usually take up work from the tender age of 5-6 years.”
The SFORD campus is spread over three acres of land and lies adjacent to the Luni River, on Sardar Samand Road, which is 25 km from Jodhpur. Nearby is the famous Khejarli village. The overall infrastructure consists of classrooms, offices, a library, a first-aid dispensary, a computer lab, a science lab, residential units, a workshop, cowsheds and water tanks—all spread over 15,000 sq ft. Other facilities include pure drinking water, 24-hour electricity, parking area and lavatories. It also has 24-hour internet leased line connection with Wi-fi that has enabled the campus to turn into an IT hub.
The journey so far
Even though the set-up and Dr Nahar’s mission remain intact, reflecting the true spirit of giving, getting children to study at SFORD is a problem. Children hailing from villages in and around Jodhpur are a support system for their parents, as they are put to work from a very young age. Losing out on the wages they earn during the daytime by dedicating those hours to studies is looked down upon and thought of as a futile practice by their parents. Thus, convincing them to send their children to school has been the biggest challenge for the team at SFORD.
However, the founders, especially Dr Nahar has gone the extra mile to explain the value of basic education and the importance of vocational training. This, coupled with his efforts to ply the students from home to school and back every day have motivated many to study. However, not all seem eager to take this plunge and many parents remain unaware of the benefits of education and the possibilities it can open up.
The children at SFORD are trained in vocational jobs, but without disrupting their habitat. Dr Nahar says, “I have dedicated my life to these economically deprived families in the villages to increase their economic resources with basic education and training. My effort is to ensure that without leaving their natural habitat, they learn the basic skills, so that they can remain in the villages to support their families and work towards the welfare of the villagers over time. And thanks to my parents and my wife for supporting me in this endeavour and reposing their faith in me! Without them, the blessings of Thakurji and support of my well-wishers, I couldn’t have come so far to fulfil my vision.”
Manish Mundra, a native of Jodhpur, is a philanthropist and a critically acclaimed film producer. He, together with his family and the able assistance of Neha Das, the head of the school, currently run the school through self-initiated fund-raising programmes, thanks to their management skills. This has also made it possible for them to realise their next vision for SFORD: a gaushala (cowshed). In this, Dr Nahar, along with Rakesh Bhatia—a fellow trustee and also a fellow chartered accountant from Jhalawar, Rajasthan—have joined hands to strengthen the animal welfare programme.
The area near SFORD is famous for the Nagori breed of cows, which give approximately 2-3 litres of milk per day and are considered less productive. The oxen of the Nagori breed, however, have tremendous strength. Given that these cows are considered uneconomical, the breed could well become extinct. SFORD wants to nurture this breed, so that it continues to live and provide whatever economic support possible.
In line with this, the gaushala provides shelter to cows that are abandoned by villagers. Located at the Peshawas village of Jodhpur district, it has approximately 300 cows, bulls and calves in its care currently. The SFORD trust simultaneously runs the ‘SFORD Gau Seva Evam Shodh Sansthan’ programme, which is aimed at developing a holistic cow care model to protect and improve the feeding and living standards of abandoned cows and increasing awareness about preservation of indigenous breeds. It also works towards instilling the importance of these conservational efforts amongst the children of the SFORD Academy and making them aware that apart from milk, a cow can also generate revenue in multiple ways. An exam called ‘Gau- Vigyan Anusandhan Evam Samanya Gyan Pareeksha’ has been instituted for this.
Dr Nahar and the SFORD board have a vision to further add a veterinarian medical centre for the animals. However, even with ample land and space in hand, expansion for both SFORD and the gaushala seem like a big hurdle. Lack of awareness and manpower to support the cause is seen as the primary hindrance. Dr Nahar and the committee, however, are working hand-in-hand and hope that there will be a greater push for their cause someday soon to enable them to achieve their goals.