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Two Indian Professors Pass on Education Opportunities

by Murali Balaji

Drs. Rabindra and Protima Roy are well-known faculty members at Drury University, a small campus tucked away in the heart of the Missouri Ozarks.

Rabindra, a chemistry professor, and Protima, an education professor, have taught at the school since the 1970s, earning numerous accolades as educators and community leaders.

However, their greatest impact over the past decade might be in their native India, where the pair has almost single-handedly educated a generation of village and tribal students in their home state of West Bengal.

In 1995, the Roys, using money they had saved since coming to the United States, established the Hem Sheela Model School in Rabindra’s hometown of Durgapur, a steel-producing city located about 100 miles from Kolkata. The school, named after Rabindra’s father Hem and mother Sheela, was designed to provide higher education opportunities for children of all economic and caste backgrounds.

“We wanted to give something back to our motherland and to our hometown,” says Rabindra Roy. “We found out that education is the only way to improve someone’s career.”

The 3,300-student school has 125 teachers and has established a formal education partnership with Drury University. Some of Drury’s trustees, including John Beuerlein, the chairman of the board, have contributed money to the Roys’ education efforts.

Drury and Hem Sheela also have an exchange program that allows students from both schools to study at each other’s campuses for a semester or more. Roy says the school epitomizes 21st century education and has helped to foster personal relationships between young Indians and their American counterparts.

Many Hem Sheela students have gained admission to universities throughout India, including the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology.

While Hem Sheela has had a significant impact in an urban area such as Durgapur, the Roys say they wanted to do more to help the rural poor, particularly those that had no access to education or technology.

In 2007, they opened the Protima Child and Woman Development Center in nearby Khatguria, a tribal village where most children come from economically struggling families. The tribes speak a local language known as Santal, which has no written script.

B.D. Mazumder, a friend of the Roys and a board member of the tribal school, says that classes are primarily taught in English or Bengali, though locals are working on developing a tribal script for written communications. In addition to studying English, the children learn math, music and meditation.

Rabindra Roy made a recent visit to the tribal school, where he and other board members spent 12-hour days working to organize activities and teach classes for students and their families. While most of the students are Hindus, Roy says, the school does not discriminate against tribal students who are not.

“In terms of the culture and social customs, all are different Hindus,” he says. “It is open to everyone, but it is a 100 percent tribal school.”

More important, Roy notes, the school is free for students, thanks to operating costs being subsidized by the Roys and other donors.

The Protima Child and Woman Development Center recently received a boost from Beuerlein, who contributed $100,000 to help its expansion. Roy says he hopes to expand the school, which is limited to primarily kindergarten-age students. The school, which began with only 41 students, now has 150.

In addition, the tribal school offers classes for adults, many of whom are illiterate.

Roy says he is happy to see the transformation among the tribal children. He says he and Protima have fulfilled their dream of uplifting lives through education.

“Our mission is to provide quality education for any child from any walk of life,” he says. “It will make a difference in their lives.”

Roy says he and Protima have one more goal they would like to see accomplished from both the Hem Sheela and Protima schools.

“If they go to America for higher studies, that will be the day,” he says.

For more information about the Hem Sheela Model School and the Protima Child and Woman Development Center, visit www.drury.edu or email Rabindra Roy at rroy@drury.edu.



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