Reflections on The Fabindia School 20th Anniversary Celebration

by Katherine Allen
December 1-2, 2012 

When I arrived with my family at William Bissell’s Sewari farm house near the school on Thursday evening, Nov 29th via Udaipur,Sandeep Dutt, new Chairman and Executive Director of the BAT Board was there to greet us and join us for dinner.  This was my first time meeting Sandeep in person and we spent the following four days becoming good friends, enjoying the various 20th anniversary events with each other’s company.  Immediately I was impressed by Sandeep’s dedication to the school and deep interest in getting to know everyone involved from top to bottom.

During his visits to the school over the past two months since he joined the BAT Board, and throughout his 5 days at the school during the 20th celebration, Sandeep amazed me by his approach.  He took the time to personally sit with every possible stakeholder related to the school: faculty, staff, students, parents, local school board members, alumni, special guests and local politicians.  He made himself accessible to all with the utmost respect and appreciation for everyone’s opinions, trying to fully understand the past and current situation of the school.  He even went so far as visiting other schools in the area to understand the caliber of local talent and teaching methods. Our talks together about his findings and suggestions for improvement gave me great respect for his approach, insights and integrity.  My time with Sandeep left me with great hope for the future of the school.

On Friday the students involved with the 20th anniversary performances put on a dress rehearsal for the entire student body.  Since the school could not accommodate all 1,000 children and parents and special guests during the Saturday and Sunday program, Friday was a celebration devoted to all the Fabindia students.  The children watched the performances by their classmates and special snacks and gifts were distributed to all 1,000 children before sending them home Friday afternoon. That night William Bissell arrived at Sewari farm via Jodhpur and joined Sandeep, myself and my family for dinner.  We sat in the unmatched silence and beauty of the farm enjoying one another’s company, reflecting on the school’s past and future.  I commend William for recognizing Sandeep’s great talents and bringing him on to the BAT Board.  With Sandeep’s dynamic leadership, BAT has new-found energy and ideas which I am sure will be implemented at the school with great results.  
Saturday morning two more key BAT Board members arrived at the farm via night train from Delhi, Ravi Kaimal (former Chairman and current board member) and Kamini Prakash (BAT Secretary).  Upon their arrival we held a lively BAT Board meeting with great enthusiasm for the future of the school and reflected on various topics including school fees, scholarships, and teacher training. 

Saturday afternoon we all assembled at the school for the opening of the official 20th Anniversary Celebrations.  It was clear that everyone had worked together to create a festive setting for the event, with beautiful clay lanterns hanging from tree branches, colorful decorations, a student drawing announcing the 20th Anniversary, and a spectacular stage and back-drop in the field in front of the forest area with seating for over 500 guests.  As parents, friends and special guests arrived, everyone buzzed around meeting and greeting in the high mood of the day. Around sunset the festivities began with Shaily Jain and Shefali Jain as the student Masters of Ceremonies, guiding us through the program.  The seats were full and all assembled with anticipation.  The program was very well organized, with short speeches and honorary gifts at the start, and dances and plays at the end.  Several people were invited to speak, including William Bissell, Ravi Kaimal, Sandeep Dutt, Katherine Allen, a former student, local politicians and special guests, and the Principal Parinita Ranpal.  Special commemorative prizes and awards were given to students, faculty and staff, including a prize for the best teacher award which went to the lower school Math teacher.  During the second half of the program students of all ages did an outstanding job presenting a variety of entertainment, including several dances and two plays.  The colorful costumes and props were spectacular.  There was a winter chill in the air, but the students and faculty did not seem to notice in their excitement over the success of the night.  At the end of the program all the students assembled on stage to sing the national anthem and then drew our attention to a candle-lit structure in the adjacent field which spelled out FABINDIA, beautifully glowing in the night sky.  As the program concluded and students gathered with their parents, the proud faculty gathered on stage for a group photo with enormous satisfaction and joy in their faces.   

The following day included a wide variety of events, starting with a morning walk or “rally” through Bali to the school campus, followed by exhibitions, sports events, more dance performances and final snacks. While I couldn’t attend the rally, apparently students and teachers created signs and banners on the value of education and a large group from the school marched together from the Champabagh pre-school to the main Bali campus.  For the exhibitions, four classrooms were used to present student work in Science, Art, History and Computers.  Students stood with their creations, demonstrating and narrating as guests toured through.  The Science exhibition was a lot of fun with about fifteen students presenting their experiments and inventions which were very impressive.  The Art exhibition room was beautifully decorated with intricate clay sculpture, paper mache models, drawings, a 4’ high “Learning Tree” with letters and many other beautiful works of art.  The Computer room exhibition was filled continuously repeating slide shows shown on about 15 different computers highlighting various aspects of the school.  A confident girl and boy toured us through the room pointing to various slideshows and explaining the many school accomplishments.  Lastly, in the History Exhibition students split the room into various stations representing different historical periods, complete with art work and data.  The students proudly guided us through the room narrating highlights from ancient civilization to modern history. I enjoyed one display by a senior girl who told me about the role of Women in vedic literature.  

What was most impressive about the entire weekend was the amount of time and effort that the students and faculty invested in preparing for the celebrations.  During the sports events and for the rest of the performances, children seemed to be truly enjoying themselves and have great pride in the school.  The diversity of activities, creativity and planning throughout made it a pleasure to witness.  

Monday morning as my family and I were leaving town, we happened to drive by the school.  Unannounced, I decided to stop at the school one last time.  Along the main road where The Fabindia School sign stood marking the turn off to the school was a cattle hearder in white dress and a bright red turban.  As he lead his cattle down the road leading to the school we slowly followed behind, taking in the scenery.  Because of the long weekend of events, the school was closed on Monday, so no one was on the road other than us and the cattle herder with his bulls and cows.   Without the crowds and excitement, I could quietly appreicate the landscape of the school, the flowers, the trees, the colorful playground and the buildings.  Everything looked so welcoming and peaceful.  I reflected on this special weekend and how fortunate I felt to have been able to join as a front row spectator.  I look forward to my next visit and to watching the school continue to grow.

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