Friday, March 14, 2014

A School to Give Children a Chance

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STEP.  The Society for Transformation, Education and Progress (STEP) was established by second-generation Indian Christians in Odisha state, a part of India that is very hostile to the Gospel.  In fact, in 1999 a Christian missionary, Graham Staines, who had spent many years establishing schools and community development projects was burnt alive along with his two sons in their car.  But from that tragedy the Indians whose lives were positively touched by their efforts established STEP to carry on the work of the Staines to love the people of this region.
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The Location.  In early February our team of seven, with team members who call Canada, USA, Scotland and India (Delhi) home, arrived by SUV into the rural village of Hatigarh, five hours north of Bhubaneswar, the state capital of Odisha.  In this village off the beaten track from the main highway, most houses are built with traditional mud brick, mud plastered walls and grass roofs. Our task was to design a K-7 school, some children’s residences for those who live too far to walk to school and housing for staff and teachers.
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The School.  The goal of STEP in building this school is to provide over 500 rural children from families of all castes and religions a chance to receive a good education and have hope for the future.  Children in this very disadvantaged area of Odisha in eastern India attend public schools where it is common to find 100 students in each class.  So one vision is to build a school with affordable tuition (even public schools charge fees for books and uniforms) where classes will be 35 students per teacher.
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Sewing Class.  STEP also recognizes that vocational training and employment opportunities are very hard to find in a place where most families rely on subsistence farming on small plots of land.  So STEP started a sewing school for women.  Our team was able to not only attend the graduation of the first sewing class but we were invited to the opening of a tailor shop so the women would have employment.  I was given the immense privilege of cutting the ribbon!
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Love of Jesus.  At the root of all their efforts STEP is motivated by love; their love for God and for the people of India.  While the school and all vocational training opportunities are open to all faiths and castes, it is no secret that living out the love of Jesus is a foundational motivation for the work of STEP.  And the people are not complaining.  Certainly not the ladies in the first graduation class who gladly told us with joy how their new skills and employment would greatly help their family and how much they looked forward to having a school of quality for their children.
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Our Work.  On the long, narrow STEP property (until they acquire more land for Phase 2) we developed a school with a multi-purpose auditorium and a library, both of which will not only serve the school but the community as well.  India requires all school children to receive one meal each day at school so there is a cafeteria and of course, open space for the children to play.
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Further into the property will be residences for teachers and staff adjacent to medical clinic.  At the rear of the property will be STEP’s guesthouse and boarding residences for children who live to far to walk to school each day.
Project Photos.  A new project video has been added to the right-side menu and a new set of annotated photos has been placed in my Photo Gallery with various options to view it.  If you want to browse the set, click here.  If you want to see the titles and read the captions of each photo, click here.
Thank you to all who make this work possible through your encouragement, prayer and financial support; you have been a part of making this project, and the resulting touched lives, a reality.