Our beloved school, Prajna Vihar School (School Abiding in Wisdom) in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, has shut its doors to its 600 pupils in the nationwide lockdown in India.
The inter-religious school is situated a few minutes’ walk from the Tree of the Buddha’s awakening. Started with 20 children in 1992, the school depends on numerous small donations from the worldwide Sangha.
The school offers a free education to the poorest of the poor. Curriculum includes usual subjects of education, plus dance, plays, public speaking, environmental awareness, mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Some of our former students have learnt a foreign language and work as tourist guides but that work has stopped leaving their families in a desperate financial situation. Most families face the same plight in this area, one of the poorest regions of India.
To date, nobody in Bodh Gaya and the surrounding villages has contracted Covid-19. One person in Gaya caught the virus following a trip to Kerala in south India. A party of pilgrims travelled from China, including from Wuhan, to visit Bodh Gaya and receive teachings from a Tibetan lama. None of the pilgrims were infected.
Local police enforce strictly the Stay-at-Home ruling despite the start of the hot season, where temperatures can reach 40 – 50 degrees. Bodh Gaya is one of the hottest inhabited places on the Earth. Many of the 3000 dwellings of the population of 35,000 people in and around Bodh Gaya remain similar to centuries ago. Hundreds of entire families live in one or two small rooms. People only use their homes for sleeping, shade and shelter during the monsoon (July/August). Literacy rate in Bodh Gaya is around 70%.
Central government of India imposed the lockdown on 24 March 2020. Pupils at our school finished their end of year exams on 14 March. Teachers continue to correct all the exam papers in the various subjects.
Obviously, the families have no access to computers/internet. Social distancing prevents any form of class activity. Children, families and teachers face an intolerable situation with no end in sight. Sr. Shobha, our head teacher/a Roman Catholic nun, along with support of Rick P, and Princy Dyer, a director, and others, currently explore the steps to take on behalf of our pupils. The trustees of the school are looking to find a way forward.
Any suggestions from readers to support the school would be appreciated. Some of the children in their final year have been given a mobile phone.
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Our website for the school is www.pvschool.in with lots of wonderful photographs.