India: Bhil Academy Progress Report
In 2006, one of RMF’s local partner NGOs ‘BHILS’ opened Bhil Academy, a residential school for poor tribal children in Jhabua, the district with the second lowest literacy rate in the state. The medium of teaching is English, which will allow them one day to work in any services industries or continue higher studies in teaching, nursing, medicine, engineering and agriculture. While studying at Bhil Academy, students become fluent in English and Hindi, in addition to their native Bhili and are prepared with the skills and the confidence to break the cycle of poverty that has trapped their parents for long.
With 375 students and over 40 staff, including teachers, wardens, cooks, a nurse, healthcare workers and gardeners, Bhil Academy High School has this year started 10th class for the first time. BHILS’ belief in equity is reflected in the number of girl students which will soon match the number of boys in classes K-10. The residential school provides completely free quality education, three nutritious meals per day and hostel accommodation. The school has a dispensary on campus with staff who look after the children`s health needs and conduct an annual medical and dental camp for villagers and with medical professionals coming from as far as Delhi.
Bhil Academy is open to innovative ideas and has hosted many RMF volunteers including students from Harvard Medical School, Loyola Marymount University and the Stanford Center for Global Health. RMF doctors and nurses have visited the school and provided health education and preventative care. The school’s students of Bhil Academy have had the privilege to interact with and continue to benefit from RMF's dedicated local permanent staff and visitors.
This year Bhil Academy abides by the recently enacted Right To Education law and plans to provide education to 500 students over the next two years by selecting prospective students from surrounding and far-away villages through a lottery. The school’s green vision focuses on renewable energy in the form of a rainwater harvesting, a kitchen garden and compost bins for organic waste.
RMF donated solar panels and lamps which light up the school at night. The school offers extracurricular activities including weekly drama classes, stitching classes for the girls, a newspaper club, cricket camps, as well as soccer, volleyball and table tennis games. The main school building has a reading room as well as a computer and science lab.
Bhil Academy is exploring public private partnership models with the State and Central Government to have additional poor students benefit from free quality English-medium education on the residential campus. The school is also keen on introducing the Central Board of Secondary Education and National Open School for those students interested in vocational training and skill development. With the first class graduating in 2014 the students will have the opportunity to become local leaders.