Challenging experience during initial days of my High school - by Victor Castelino


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Victor Castelino

Dubai, 12 December 2009: Need for a high school for the children of Moodubelle and the surrounding areas was as old as the existence of Belle Parish itself. The nearest high schools were: St Mary’s and Hindu High schools, Shirva to the south; SVH High School Innanje and SVS High School Katapady  to the west; Christian High School, Udupi and Manipal High School to the North west and Government High School, Bailur to the east. Being surrounded by rivers without bridges on all sides except in the east, sending children to these schools was a difficult decision parents had to make considering the floods, transport  facilities which were not there and the distance to these schools – not less than 6 miles.

When I was a boy, people of Moodubelle constantly requested the parish priest (at that time Rev. Fr. Jerome Pinto) to take the initiatives to start a high school in Moodubelle; but for obvious reasons he was very reluctant. The required infra structure was not there; most of the people were poor farmers and farm labourers who being at the mercy of unpredictable weather conditions and after paying “Geni” every year hardly could manage to eat a square meal a day. When Fr Pinto was transferred and Fr Abundius D’Souza took over the church administration hopes were rekindled. Being a quiet man, he quietly initiated the ground work. The support of the people was incredible and to make things easier the parish got an assistant parish priest in the name of Fr Theodore Lobo, who was energetic, persuasive and just sweet.

Moodubelle was surrounded by hills and ravines and forests. There was not a piece of level ground close by which could be called a play ground. Teachers and students of Belle primary school held their cricket matches in a cattle grazing ground near Puthrottu which was more than a mile away. To sanction a high school in any place, necessary play ground is a must. The church had enough land and matured quality timber trees. Behind the existing primary school there was a hill on top of which was a huge banyan tree and a small piece of level ground. During summer teachers of the primary sections conducted classes under this tree – a typical “gurukula” system of education! Cool summer breeze used to help the children enjoy the surroundings and play around the tree.

To prepare a play ground for the school, the only option was to cut down the tree and literally demolish the hill and dump the mud in surrounding low lying areas at a massive cost. Earth movers were needed on an hourly basis. Added to this there was building cost and the teachers’ salaries to be paid until the Government approved the school and teachers’ salaries. Then a well equipped laboratory, sports equipment and a library were to be added. I do not know who did all the calculations and estimates, at the end of all the day some one had the courage and foresight to go ahead and start the school – mind you there was no Gulf money flowing in at that time!

Until 1960, the educational structure in South Kanara District was around Lower Primary (classes 1 to 5); Primary (classes 1 to 7); Higher Primary (classes 1 to 8) and High School (classes 1 to 11). At the end of the Higher Primary school there was a public examination and those passed obtained an Elementary School Leaving Certificate (ESLC) which also made them eligible to pursue their high school studies. The next public examination was after completion of class 11 at the high school level and those who passed obtained Secondary School Leaving Certificate (SSLC) which allowed them to join a degree college. Those students who could afford to have high school education and at the same time wanted to avoid the tough class 8 public examination would leave after class 7 and move to a high school and continue their studies from class 8 without facing the public examination. So, basically the class 8 public examination was meant for those students who could not afford higher education or for those who did not want to continue, mostly girls who were married off at the first available opportunity.

In 1958, at the end of class 7 many students left and moved to either high schools in Shirva or to Innanje or Katapady. When the rest, including myself, decided to stay back, there was not even an inkling of a high school being considered for Moodubelle. After a few months, a three room structure was being constructed next to the primary school with full speed and when it was completed we were told it would be used as temporary class rooms for the high school students. Before the end of the academic year, provisional permission to start a high school in Moodubelle was obtained. Thus “St. Lawrence High School, Moodubelle” came to be established.

In June 1959 St. Lawrence High School, Moodubelle was officially established as a separate institution from the already existing “Church Higher Elementary School, Moodubelle”. So, the first class of the new high school started from 9th std or Form IV with a strength of about 40 students (my admission number was 36). Mr Denis D’Silva was appointed the first Head Master who also taught us English and Maths. Mr Sundar Ram Naik was his assistant and he taught us Kannada, Social Studies, drawing and Hindi. Mr Alban Rodrigues joined the staff as the office-in-charge cum teacher. He taught us Science. We could not afford to have sports, games, craft classes; instead we used that time to level the ground and help the carpenters to move the tiles to the roof for the new school building being built.

As the classes were progressing, an earth mover was hired to “demolish” the hill behind the elementary school. We could hear the noise of the heavy equipment toppling the trees, uprooting the bushes and moving soil from one place to another. An opening was made at the side of the hill just behind the elementary school which extended to the west and then to the south of the hill; thus enough ground was prepared around the hill to lay the foundation for the new 7 room school building. Matured trees were knocked down and cut into sizes to prepare rafters, beams and reapers for the roof. Carpenters were at work to prepare doors and windows. Granite stones were off loaded and chipped into sizes. We could see people of Belle parish (which included at that time Padu Belle, Pambur, Kuntala Nagara etc.) engaged in digging trenches for the foundation and levelling the ground every day for three hours as free manual labour. Rev. Fr Theodore Lobo and his team visited every house in the parish and many prominent people in the neighbourhood and wooed them to part with whatever cash and kind they could afford. Some donated cash and others donated jack fruit, teak and many other varieties of quality trees. Parishioners living and working in Bombay (now Mumbai) joined in the collection drive. It was a mass movement by the people and because of that within a year and a half the building was ready for inauguration and occupation.

Meanwhile, we completed one academic year and waiting for the results. Because of the administrative lapses our results were not announced. After “decommissioning” existing school staff results were announced and we were promoted to the V Form (class 10). Until the inauguration of the new building we continued our classes in the temporary building. We were joined by the new batch of students. As per the new educational set up their class was called Class VIII and not Form IV. Many who left us after class 7 rejoined us in Form V. We also had new staff. Mr Deju Uchil, a retired educational officer, became our new Head Master; Mr Mukunda Puranik joined him to teach Kannada and Hindi. Mr Edward D’sa, our head master in the primary divisions moved to the new high school to teach Social Studies, English and extra curricular activities. Fresh graduates Mr T. Moraes and Miss Hazel Rego got in to teach maths, English, Hindi, Science and games. Mr Gopal Krishna Nayak, a genius in maths joined in to teach composite maths, while Mr Deju Unchil taught general maths and English. Mr Hebbar (I cannot get his first name) also joined to teach Social Studies and English. A brilliant drawing teacher with a sweet voice (I do not remember his name) was appointed to teach drawing. He could sing and draw in the class at the same time. Last but not the least, Mr Albert Noronha joined the staff as an office assistant. Being a co-ed school, it was fun to have understanding teachers and beautiful girls around. Any complaints against boys by girls were summarily dismissed by the teachers as “praya dosha” and there was not a single complaint serious enough which deserved disciplinary action!

While Mr Deju Uchil taught us by example how to be honest to the core, Mr Puranik and Mr Hebbar taught us how to cultivate vegetables and fruits using the rich and fertile soil of the school compound and cow dung which was available aplenty around the school premises. Most of the recess and games and craft time was used to level the ground which I believe continued for some years until the school building was completely visible to the outer world. The only game we played seriously was “Kabaddi” under the guidance of Mr Moraes. Even though we did not win any cups or shields, we did compete in Taluk level tournaments. When we completed Form VI or classs 11 or Metriculation or SSLC whatever you call it, the school had grown from strength to strength with a stable and experienced staff so much so that a foundation had been laid for a sustained quality education which resulted in the near future having state level first rank in SSLC and cent percent results for continuous three years that too without weaning out weak students. All this was possible because the Church Higher Elementary School, Belle and the neighbouring primary schools’ staff also had dedicated themselves to impart primary education to their students which became the foundation for higher education later.

The day we had the customary “send off” for the first batch of students of the school, it was a tearful farewell, remembering how the newly established school had, unexpectedly, changed the direction of our lives. I could not hold back my tears when I thanked on behalf of the outgoing batch, all the teachers, students, management and the hard working, simple and lovely people of Moodubelle for the invaluable gift of an educational institution to the community in particular and to the nation in general. When we look back and reflect over the past 50 years, we can proudly say “A dream had come true” for the people of Moodubelle after a long time!

 

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