Odisha, one of the states served by Divine Word Missionaries India East Province, has a high concentration of people that the Indian government categorizes as Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. These terms refer to groups of historically disadvantaged indigenous people who are among India’s most impoverished.
Fulfilling a preferential missionary option for these underprivileged groups, Divine Word Missionaries established Nabajyoti High School in Kerjenga, located in the town of Pallahara. Opened on July 1, 2000, the school was designed at the outset to provide quality education and all-around development for students from this area’s Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
Located in the beautiful foothills of the Malayagiri Mountains, Nabajyoti High School is situated in the midst of tribal populations. The vast majority of our students come from the Scheduled Tribes rather than the Scheduled Classes. Many tribes live in Pallahara, including Bhuyan, Soharo, Juang and Munda. Predominant among them is the Ho tribe, and it is within the Ho that our pastoral ministry is concentrated. Lessons in the school are conducted in Oria, the official language of Odisha state.
The school opened in a makeshift location in Kerjenga with 103 students in two classes (the equivalent of grade levels in America) of VI and VIII. A year later the school moved to its present location. During its 17 years of existence, Nabajyoti High School has grown in stature and built its credibility. It is recognized by local administration and education officials as an ideal school for the area.
Today the school has 422 students—282 boys and 140 girls—in five classes, VI through X. Proving that the school is taking care of the impoverished groups, only one student of the 422 does not come from the Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes or other weaker sections of the community.
Being a tribal and low-caste stronghold, Pallahara’s environment is not conducive for education even though the families understand the importance of education. The area’s literacy rate is far below the state average, both for men and women. Poverty and underdevelopment of the area are the main causes of illiteracy, along with social ills such as drinking.
To create a productive study atmosphere for the children from this background, the school provides hostel facilities for students—for boys and for girls separately. Today there are 261 boys and 118 girls in the hostels. These students hail from nine districts of Odisha and even a few from the neighboring state of Jharkhand.
From its very inception, Nabajyoti High School has made its presence felt in academics. Even though it gets students who are at a high risk of academic underachievement, the school has produced excellent results thanks to the commitment and determination of the staff and management. The 100 percent results on the High School Certificate examination for the past five years illustrate this point, demonstrating the school’s academic excellence and quality of instruction.
The school also has made its presence felt in extracurricular activities and sports. Students regularly participate and are rewarded at cultural competitions throughout the region. A few students, both boys and girls, have represented the state at the national level in athletics, field hockey and kabaddi, a popular sport in South Asia that combines wrestling and rugby. Nabajyoti High School is the district’s main school for archery, field hockey, kabaddi and kho kho, which is a competitive form of tag.
Students have proved themselves in other extracurricular activities as well. During the 2014-15 academic year, Joseph Jank prepared a science project that he presented at the state level.
Nabajyoti High School has taken keen interest in the environment. Planting trees is a regular activity that has transformed the barren land into a lush green field. Students attend awareness programs on environmental issues such as waste recycling and the ill effects of the use of plastic. The school also conducts health awareness programs, with special emphasis on personal health and hygiene. Sensing the necessity for computer literacy, the school has introduced computer education with a well-equipped lab.
The beauty of Nabajyoti High School is enhanced by both the boys’ and girls’ hostels. These facilities provide the students a decent accommodation, guided study, opportunities to develop talents, spiritual nourishment and faith formation. During the past five years not a single student from the hostels has failed in the High School Certificate examination, while 65 percent of them have secured first division. Certainly, this is an achievement to be proud of.
Students’ progress even after they leave school is the joy of the staff. The school is proud of alumni who excel in their lives. While one alumna is training for her doctorate, several other alumni are seeking their diplomas in engineering at Instructional Training Institutes. Some have taken up teaching as a career.
The school has 14 committed teaching and four non-teaching staff. Because the school is not financially self-reliant, the Divine Word Educational Society now bears the financial burden. More donations would be helpful. Due to low pay, teachers leave the school at regular intervals, which creates a vacuum. An enhanced payment plan would ensure continuity of the staff, and a steady staff will certainly promote the school’s growth.
The school has other items on its wish list. Today Nabajyoti High School lacks a science lab, depriving students from having hands-on experiments. It also does not have a library or sports room. There is also a need to increase living space in the hostels, both for boys and girls.
The living space in the boys’ hostel was planned for 150, but 261 boys are living in it today, causing over-crowding and unhygienic living. They are in desperate need for more beds. Both the school and the hostels need additional toilet facilities, especially for girls. Supplying these basic requirements for the school and hostels will help these students from impoverished backgrounds to live in dignity and be proud of their school.