The Weekend Leader - Natives' return

A school that has changed the face of a region, 7200 feet above sea level

Afsana Rashid   |   Srinagar


Vol 5 | Issue 11

Born and brought up in Dubai, 31-year-old, Sabbah Haji, returned to Breswana, her native village in Doda district, about 140 km from Srinagar, at a time when there was unrest in the State over the Amarnath land transfer issue.

“It was around 2008 when there were protests and clashes everywhere, and the situation was worse in the entire state,” she recalls.

Sabbah Haji’s school provides quality education to children of a remote village in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir

Haji began working for the family trust, Haji Amina Charity Trust, which was set up by her uncle, Nasir Haji, a businessman based in Singapore.

She had studied in Dubai up to class 10, and moved to Bengaluru, where she spent nearly ten years.

She did her graduation in Commerce from Christ College, Bengaluru, and then was into content writing for various websites. She has also done her post-graduation in English literature through IGNOU.

Breswana, where she is now based at, is located at an altitude of 7200 feet on the Himalayas with no motorable road – it takes 3 to 4 hours by foot or horseback to reach the village from the nearest road.

At Breswana, Haji is serving the community by giving them quality education. She started the Haji Public School in 2009 with just two classes - Lower Kindergarten (LKG) and Upper Kindergarten (UKG) - 30 students, and two local teachers.

It was her uncle’s vision to start the school in his village. He supports the school with funds through the family trust, says Haji.

The school located amidst greenery and rugged mountain territory

Initially, the school operated from the family’s ancestral house. Later Haji’s father donated some land for the school. By August the same year, the school had its own building.

The next year the school opened its branches in two adjacent villages. Today, the school is up to the 5th standard, has about 200 students and 15 permanent teachers on its rolls.

Students come from the local village and even from far-away areas like Kishtwar, Jammu and other places.

The tuition fee is kept at a bare minimum keeping in view the economic status of the local people.

For LKG and UKG classes the fee is Rs. 100 per month and from classes 1 to 5 it is Rs.150 per month, says Haji.

“We offer free education to those who cannot afford to pay the fees. 35 percent of the students in the school are studying free. Most of the people living in the village are economically weak,” she adds.

Education level in the region is dismal with subsistence farming being the main occupation of the local residents.

The school has a regular roster of visiting volunteers from all parts of the world, whose tenures are scheduled in stints throughout the academic year.

About 200 students study at Haji Public School

“Our big problem is that there is no qualified staff. No one comes to this place. So, the school gets teachers from outside. The volunteers are required to spend at least three months in the school,” she says.

Volunteers are allotted special quarters and provided with all the meals during their stay.

Haji finds the volunteers online, mostly on micro-blogging website, Twitter and social networking site, Facebook. Word of mouth and attention from the media also help in her efforts.

The school has a library and a computer lab. “We’ve just installed a brand new indoor climbing wall,” she says. Children are taught to speak English and new games are introduced in the school for them.

The Hajis plan to take the school up to 10th standard. They also plan to start a high school/ college in a village lower down the mountain closer to the Srinagar-Jammu national highway.

“By the time our current batch of kids reaches 10th grade, we should have the high school ready for them as well as for any other students in the area,” says Haji.

Her parents too are back in Doda. Her father, Mohammad Saleem Haji, worked as a manager in a shipping company in Dubai and her mother, Tasneem Haji, worked as a teacher in Dubai.

“They always wanted to move back, once we (the children) had finished our education,” says Haji, who has four other siblings. She is the second child in the family.

Her mother, who has been a teacher and administrator for about 30 years, is the principal of the school. Her father, who is a sarpanch now, also helps in the affairs of the school.

Haji says though it was never her dream to run a school, she is satisfied with her work.

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