Avondale educators help school break cycle of poverty in India
A school that began under a tree is changing lives in one of India’s most impoverished states with support from alumni and friends of Avondale.
AoZora began as a vision of founder and director Nikesh Sinha, who struggled to accept the lack of educational opportunities for poor children in the eastern state of Bihar. “I had experienced my suffering and witnessed many children suffer for study, food and the basic needs of life,” he says. “It had always caused pain in my heart.”
So, Sinha began teaching a few of the children from the village in which he lives. The village, Sujata, is across the Falgu River from the town of Bodhgaya, where Gautama Buddha is said to have obtained enlightenment. Sinha and the children met under a tree on the riverbank. Then came a fortuitous connection—Sinha shared his vision with an Australian traveller who knew a student at Avondale College of Higher Education.
The 1% Club, a group of alumni and friends of Avondale who donate a percentage of their wages for mission, began supporting the fledgling school. Sinha registered it as a welfare trust—education and accommodation at AoZora is free.
As the number of children attending classes each day increased, Sinha rented a small building. The landlord would eventually increase the rent beyond what Sinha could pay, so Sinha temporarily moved the students who had been living at the school to the village’s school.
With the support of its donors, the trust purchased land in the village of Hathiyar just south of Sujata and has constructed a building on the land. The first level with six rooms has been completed. Levels two and three will be completed as funds become available.
Education students from Avondale first visited AoZora with their lecturer, Jason Hinze, in 2007. Senior Lecturer Dr Andrew Matthes joined the following year. He has been leading the Ministry of Teaching Overseas (MOTO) trips for seven of the past eight years—an independent audit in 2014 to assess safety and security halted all Avondale mission trips in 2015.
Matthes visited the school again in June and July this year with a colleague, Gail Ormsby, and eight students from the Discipline of Education. The students completed a 15-day practicum—13 teaching in the classroom and two leading excursions—and participated in a series of evening meetings supporting a school-initiated church plant.
At the school’s invitation, Matthes’s local church minister Pr Peter Watts, the evangelist for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in northern New South Wales, joined the MOTO India teams in 2013 and again this year to support the plant.
“Initially, we didn’t go to AoZora with any other agenda other than to teach and to offer professional development for the school’s teachers,” says Matthes. “But when you’ve got a heart for serving where the people request you serve, then we follow their lead.”
MOTO India team member Rebekah Modernel describes AoZora as an “educational refuge.” “It’s given the community a glimpse of how valuable education can be,” says the Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary) student. “The staff nurture their students, teaching them important principles and values. I know this holistic education will continue, and strengthen, as time goes on.”
Helping AoZora build
The AoZora school is looking to build.
The first level of its building in the village of Hathiyar near the town of Bodhgaya has been completed thanks to the support of alumni and friends of Avondale. These donors raised most of the money for the construction of the building. The 1% Club, a group of alumni and friends of Avondale who donate a percentage of their wages for mission, help fund only AoZora’s operating costs.
So, any future construction is “dependant on the generosity of others who value Seventh-day Adventist education as a way of breaking the cycle of poverty in India,” says Dr Andrew Matthes, a Senior Lecturer in the Discipline of Education at Avondale College of Higher Education.
Matthes has been leading Ministry of Teaching Overseas (MOTO) trips to the school for seven of the past eight years. “The school now houses about 150 students during the day in classes that range from kindergarten through to Class 6,” he says.
Levels two and three of the building will be completed as funds become available. The additional space will mean AoZora can offer secondary education to Class 10 and provide more dormitory accommodation—the school offers accommodation to only 12 boys but wants to offer accommodation to girls, too.
The living standards in the villages near Bodhgaya are poor. “Imagine dirt roads with animals, animal faeces and human sewerage,” says MOTO India team member Rebekah Modernel, a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching (Secondary) student at Avondale. “Imagine houses made of mud and young children helping on their family’s farm instead of going to school. Electricity isn’t guaranteed and clean water doesn’t exist.”
But Modernel says the students at AoZora, despite limited understanding of the world outside of India, have an appreciation of knowledge. “They have such a level of curiosity and craving for an education,” adds Matthes.
Help AoZora build
You can support the building of levels two and three at AoZora by making a tax-deductible donation. Account name: MOTO India. BSB: 032 524. Account number: 147 536. Email your name, the amount of your donation and your postal address to Dr Andrew Matthes to receive a tax-deductible receipt.Emaill Andrew Matthes