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The word “generosity” tends to mean different things to different people. For a child, it might mean sharing toys or candy with another kid. For a volunteer, it could take on the form of sharing skills or precious time. But for one Springfield couple, generosity has dictated almost every major decision in their marriage, and as a result, they’re changing thousands of lives on the other side of the world.
KSMU’s Jennifer Moore reports.
Rabindra and Protima Roy are both professors at Drury University: he teaches chemistry, and she’s in the education department. Early on in their marriage, they decided they wanted to do something special for the impoverished children in their native country of India. But they knew it would take money.
"We had to cut down on a lot of luxuries from our life, and we do not have a lot of expensive things at our home. Hardly ever do we go out to eat," says Protima.
While their colleagues were living completely different lifestlyes, the Roys decided to live off of one salary, and save the other. Instead of upgrading to a bigger house, they stayed in their modest, two-bedroom home. Rabindra drove the same car for 22 years…until it eventually caught fire in the Drury parking lot.
After many years, and some smart investing, they peeked into their piggy bank, and realized they had managed to save up 1.5 million dollars. It was time to put it to use.
"I was convinced that education was the key to success, that we must do something and give back to my city, Durgapur. And we started building a school with 350 students and only six teachers," said Rabinda.
They built that school, the Hem Sheela Model School, in West Bengal in 1995. It is now self-sustaining through the small tuition students pay to go there. Some of its students have gone on to medical school and the Indian Institute of Technology, which is India’s equivalent of MIT.
But the Roys knew there were students who couldn’t afford even that, since many of their parents make about 60 cents per day. So Protima, whose husband describes her as good-looking and brilliant, had the idea to start a small, free school in the nearby village of Khatguria, where there was no school.
The problem was convincing the parents to allow their kids attend the school, as opposed to having them work in the rice fields. Protima took her message door-to-door.
"The first reaction, they started asking me over and over again: Are you a politician? Are you here to get our votes? What's your intention," Protima recalls.
Eventually, the Roys decided to hold a village meeting. They couldn’t meet in the daytime because the parents all worked. Also, meeting in the nighttime was difficult because the villagers were afraid to walk through unlit paths due to an abundance of cobra snakes. There was no electricity to light the roads.
Finally, the villagers said if they had a meeting on a night with a full moon, they would come. They came, and listened. The tribal village leader gave his consent and so construction on the one-room schoolhouse began.
“We started with 40 children in the beginning," Protima says. "At present, we have about 135 children."
For the past two years, the children have been sitting on a mat on the concrete floor, which is not uncommon in rural parts of south Asia. They have since added two more rooms. And thanks to a generous donation from the chairman of Drury’s Board of Trustees, John Beuerlein, the school is about to expand even more. By December, it will have ten rooms and six teachers.
"In the new school, we are going to have chairs and tables in every classroom," Protima says.
That school also acts as a women’s center, with free health screenings and counseling.
Meanwhile, back in Springfield, the Roys continue to live frugally. Today, they use their own income to pay for the salaries of the village teachers, as well as for the kids’ uniforms and school lunches.
They’ve sacrificed so that they could give barefoot, malnourished children, whom Rabindra describes as “the poorest of the poor,” something that no one can ever take away: an education.
Construction on the expansion of the village school begins this month.
For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.