Every child deserves a good education, but in many poverty-stricken areas, school is more of a dream than a normal part of life.
Harekala Hajabba grew up without learning how to read or write because there were simply no schools in his village of Newpadpu, India. But that hasn’t stopped the man now known as “Akshara Santa,” or the “Saint of Letters,” from changing his youngest neighbors’ lives forever!
As an adult, Harekala has made his living selling oranges in Mangalore, where he also had a random encounter that gave him new purpose in 2000.
“The first time I felt handicapped because of my lack of education was when a foreigner asked me the price of the fruits in English. I didn’t know what he meant,” he told BBC. “An idea struck me to start a primary school so that the young children of my village would not go through a similar situation.”
At the time, he didn’t have the money to pursue his vision because he was making about $2.80 per day, but he wasn’t going to let that stop him!
Initially, he set up a school in a community mosque for 28 students. But as that number rose, so did the need for a bigger space. That’s when he took out a loan and used the tiny amount he had set aside to purchase a plot of land, on which he built a primary school!
Over the following years, Harekala scrimped and saved even more to expand the building so it could accommodate high schoolers.
Thanks to financial support from the local government, the school just keeps growing. Today, more than 100 students attend the Dakshina Kannada Zilla Panchayat Higher Primary and Composite High School, and Harekala, who is in his 60s, has his sights set on establishing a college!
Journalist Thufail Muhammad, who has written about Harekala before, said this an incredible feat.
“He earned very little to even dream of starting a school,” Thufail said. “But his determination to educate others drove him towards success. In a country like India where education is not the primary goal for many rural families, Mr. Hajabba is a shining light.”
This year, Harekala received a Padma Shri, India’s fourth-highest civilian award. The government presents these to citizens who give back to their country, and Harekala has certainly earned it!
What a selfless way to give children a better future! You’re not just a hero to the people of India, Harekala. You’re a hero to the world!
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