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Vidyamandir Trust Turns 60 - Beneficiation, Indian Style
While the discussion on what the diamond industry can do to boost the local economies in Africa is relatively new, diamantaires in India have been ploughing back part of their profits to help development of their home town, Palanpur, for many decades now. Stephen Rego focuses on this lesser known facet of the industry in a report on the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Vidyamandir Trust, which is both led and supported by diamantaires.
By: Diamond World News Service
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Feb 18 2012 5:39PM
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Reference: 6741  

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A special computer lab with over 200 computers. A library that encourages children to use the Internet for study and research. A fully equipped sports centre with facilities for training in over 20 disciplines ranging from roller skating to rifle shooting. Hostels, auditoriums, lots of open spaces.

The guests at the Open Day celebrations of the educational institution we are visiting, including both alumni and well wishers, have come from different parts of India, some even from other countries.
There are doctors and diamantaires, space scientists, computer engineers and lawyers. And Chief Guest at the function they have all come to attend is none other than Dipak Jain, Dean of INSEAD, one of the top business schools in the world located in Paris.

One could easily be forgiven for believing that we are in one of the many modern, up-market residential schools that have sprung up in different parts of the country catering to relatively elite students. Institutions that follow an international syllabus and confer their students with international degrees.

But, no, we are actually in the city of Palanpur and on the central campus of the Vidyamandir Trust, an educational body that is celebrating its Diamond Jubilee – a full six decades of success. The activities of the Trust are spread over fourteen campuses, encompass 124 institutions, and bring together over six thousand children from varied backgrounds, and with different needs. It has a staff of over 400 persons.

This is an institution that had begun in 1951 as a small initiative by Mumbai based diamond trader Kantilal Chhotalal ‘Kanubhai’ Mehta to boost primary education in his home town, Palanpur. Originally called Shree Palanpur Shishushala and Balmandir Education Trust, the Trust took over the Jain Shishushala, a primary school in the Jivanwadi locality of Palanpur that had been set up by one of the city’s pioneering diamantaires, Surajmal Lallubhai in 1921. With his passion for education, and desire to do something for his hometown, Kanubhai ensured that the body was nurtured with care, and made frequent trips to Palanpur to guide its growth and development.

The dedication and commitment of Kanubhai and Suryakantbhai Parikh, whom was appointed as full time principal and director of the institution was more than matched with the generous donations from other members of the Palanpuri Jain community. The founding donors were three women – Kesarben Amritlalbhai Mehta, who gifted her large property, Taleybaug, along with the bungalow, and Leelaben Gafoorchandbhai Mehta and Leelaben Surajmalbhai Mehta, who donated Rs 50,000 and Rs 45,000 each in memory of their respective husbands.

“They kindled a spark of generosity that inspired the entire community,” says Ashish K. Mehta, currently the Managing Trustee of the Trust which was finally renamed Vidyamandir Trust, Palanpur in 1997.

Such community support helped the Trust to gradually increase both the quantity and quality of its educational initiatives. From the initial Balmandirs, the schools grew into High Schools; and responding to changing times and varied needs, the campus grew to include the first English medium school in the region, a school to impart education to children with special needs, a teacher’s training college, hostels, and even a Mobile ‘Knolwedge Yaan’ that travels to schools across the district offering them access to technology and facilities that they could otherwise never even dream of.

With its focus on holistic education, Vidyamandir has emerged as one of the most academically successful institutions in Gujarat. Year on year, its students have been in the top 10 SSC performers in the State. Furthermore, Vidyamandir probably sends more students to Medical and Engineering colleges than any other school in Gujarat. In the year 2011, as many as 97 students out of 210 who appeared in HSC exams secured admission into Medical and Para medical colleges.

Against the scant attention paid to sports in Gujarat, the sports academy, established in year 2000, not only fills the gap with excellent sports facilities, but also produces some of the finest sporting talent in Gujarat. Today several of these students compete at the state and national level. In fact, since the year 2000, there has been a substantial rise in the number of students training at state or national level, and it stood as high as 180 in 2011 as compared to 12 in the year 2000. Recently, two of Vidyamandir’s students even represented India at the International level.

It was therefore not surprising that thousands of people – including past and present students, their families and well wishers from different parts of the world – attended the grand two-day celebrations held on January 14 and 15, 2010 in Palanpur to mark the Diamond Jubilee of the Trust.

The highlight of the two-day event was a massive gathering of over 22,000 current as well as former students and their families at the Vidyamandir Parivar Mahasammelan held at the King George V Club on January 15. The large numbers at the function and the emotional reunion scenes were a clear testimony to how everyone who has been associated with the Trust in the last six decades holds the body, the institutions run by it and those who run them in very high regard.

The programme was addressed by Praful Patel, Union Minister and Suryakantbhai Parikh, former Director and Mentor of Vidyamandir and others.

Later there was a special function addressed by Dipak Jain, and Praful Patel. Trust Chairman Arunbhai R. Mehta gave the Welcome Address and Managing Trustee Ashish K. Mehta made a brief presentation on ‘60 Years of Vidyamandir’. The guests, along with the donors lit traditional lamps to invoke blessings on the new buildings and other initiatives that had been inaugurated at the Vidyamandir campus the previous day.

Minister Patel described Vidyamandir as a “Centre of Excellence” which has played a crucial role in transforming the district of Banaskantha. He said India could become even more powerful if “there was one Vidyamandir in each of the 600 districts across the country.”

Showering praise on the Vidyamandir Trust for its exemplary work, Jain said, “In the contemporary world, there is no contribution more important that imparting education,” adding, “People are the key resource in value creation,” and “Values are more valuable than other valuables”.

The Trust, however, is not just content to celebrate its achievements of the past, but is actively engaged in planning for the future. As Ashish Mehta put it in his presentation at the event, “The Trust understands that an institution is a living organism. It grows old, gets monotonous, and gathers deadwood. To preserve its vitality and youthful vigor, it should constantly regenerate and renovate. This is especially true in today’s fast changing world.

Changes maybe in the academic content, teaching techniques, in the technology that is used, or in the infrastructure that is present. The Board is aware of this, and hence, facilitates these changes at Vidyamandir as well. And taking this forward and ensuring that we remain with the times is possibly the biggest goal of the Trust moving forward.”

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