The state of Rajasthan is one of the most unique states in the country. Its culture, traditions, folklore, and attire are influenced by the climate and the age-old customs that revolve around it. However, Rajasthan is one of the states that have a low female literacy rate and several attempts have been made to see to it that this gets better over time. One such initiative is the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School.
The idea behind the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School was to tackle female illiteracy in the state. The school has classes from 1st standard all the way up to 10th standard. Each class has a maximum capacity of 40 students, hence bringing the maximum capacity of the school up to 400. The education provided in this school is completely free of cost, but the interesting thing to note here is that it is not a public school. In fact, the Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School is listed as a private school. This is because it is run by an American non-profit organization called CITTA which works towards empowering women socially and economically, especially in impoverished areas of the country, and uplifting them when necessary.
The Architectural Marvel
One of the most striking features that make this school stand out is its unique design. The school is oval in shape with an open courtyard in the middle of the school. Now, it is well known that Rajasthan is home to the only desert in the union of India, the Thar Desert, and so the temperatures there are understandably more extreme in nature. However, despite this, the school does not feature an air conditioning system and surprisingly the temperature inside the classrooms are still cool and moderate. This is because of pure architectural prowess.
The architect behind this inspiring school is an American architect called Diana Kellogg. Her vision for the school was extremely woman-centric, tapping into her experience as a woman. She specifically looked for symbols of strength within the local culture, and this is where she found and settled on the 3 oval structures that the school is famous for today. It brings a modern futuristic design to traditional Rajasthani architecture. In her own words,
“Effective design is a process requiring deep understanding the history of a place - its culture, its topography, and its vernacular. It can be profoundly moving and foster connectivity.”
Keeping this principle in mind, she even decided to use local materials to make the construction more accustomed to the weather. She made use of local sandstone to construct the entire building which not only made the school resistant to the extreme weather of the place but also gave local craftspeople a means to earn some bread. The very design also helps reduce the interior temperature of the classrooms.
As mentioned before, there are 3 buildings, the main one being the school itself. The other two include the Medha Hall and the Women’s Cooperative building. The Women’s Cooperative Center is a skill-building center tailored to women and the Medha Hall is a place where women can showcase their artistic talents and collaborate with well-known designers and artists.
Furthermore, the building is also a sustainable building. It utilizes the blaring heat of the desert sun to its advantage by converting it into useful electricity by the use of solar panels. It also has a rainwater harvesting system because being in a place like Jaisalmer where the average rainfall is a little over 200mm, saving every drop of water matters.
Benefits for the Students
Since this school was basically built keeping the underprivileged in mind, every aspect of the educational institution was free. This meant that the transport facility from the school to their homes and back would be free, but it didn’t end there. This extended to their books, overall education costs, their food, the books that they were supposed to be using, and their uniforms - all of this would be free.
The program manager for this immensely innovative project was a person known as Chahat Jain, and his approach to designing a curriculum for the girls was from a purely holistic perspective. He included things such as the knowledge and application of local textile, singing, dancing, and so on so as to not let it die out. He wanted to make sure that the students took pride in their local culture and preserved them, practicing them so that they could keep the tradition alive for as long as the school functioned. Holistic education also meant that the students would also be taught computer skills that they would require for the future, as well as third language skills.
The uniforms are another big story. Micheal Daube is the man behind the entire operation and his vision of helping the people of the place extended far beyond just the girls. Rajasthan is home to the vibrant colors of Leheriya and Bandhini textiles, handcrafted Juttis, and the beautiful Kundan jewelry which was deeply engraved into the heart of the culture of the state. He realized that its tie to fashion was quite strong, but the lack of the skillset required to make their unique cultural masterpiece was quite apparently lacking. It was during one of his pursuits hence that he came across Ajrakh uses one of the most complex craft techniques known in human history and employs extremely unique forms of woodblock printing from the Sindh region. Ajrakh is famous for its geometric shapes and its vibrant crimson-indigo color palette and is also one of the oldest forms types of handicrafts, dating back to the Harappa civilization of the Indus valley. Daube found it fascinating that the technique and artform were still alive and being practiced among both Hindu and Muslim craftsmen, mostly from the Khatri community. He realized that reviving Ajrakh would not only help bring back a lost art but also give employment to the community that specialized in this craft. With the backing of the Jaisalmer Royal Family, who were also the ones who contributed land towards building the school, he approached renowned designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who agreed to design the uniforms using the Ajrakh printing style.
The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School is a collaborative effort of several artists and engineers across countries and goes to show that a conceded effort can truly transform the lives of not just one, but several generations to come. It brings to light the importance of holistic education and the necessity of art in education. This school stands as a burning testimony to the consummation of cultural creativity with its real-world implications and brings into view the relevance of tradition in the modern era. With such a unique collaborative effort, the idea is to uplift just the young girls and women in Rajasthani society - it isn’t even just about the overall upliftment of the local community. The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls School sets an example - with the right intent, there is always room for the upliftment of any community in any part of the country, or the world for that matter, and that is definitely a message that the younger generation of today can work towards.
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