Serving with joy: Geeta Chopra and Balbir Mathur leadchildren in an educational rhyme at one of the village schools she andher husband helped start.
As Geeta Chopra walked among the mud-walled huts of the village, she noticed groups of children playing in the dusty streets.
Geeta had come to the village of Duduhi (Doo-doo?-ee) to help the villagers plant fruit trees. When she saw the children, she realized that they were old enough to go to school. In her typical direct manner, Geeta questioned the villagers: "Why are these children not in school?"
"There is no school that they can go to," came the answer.
Geeta was shocked. "There is no school anywhere in this area?"
"The only school is too far away for small children to walk. And besides, it is on the other side of a busy, unsupervised railway line. Some young children were killed there by a train not too long ago. We cannot send our children across those tracks. And we have no other option."
As a mother, Geeta understood the parents' concern for their children's safety, but still the idea of children not going to school greatly disturbed her.
Over the years, Geeta had traveled to a large number of remote villages as a Trees for Life volunteer. This same situation plagued many villages. Educational facilities for young children either did not exist or failed to meet the real needs. Yet in such places where children did not receive education, people were locked into devastating poverty and had no hope of breaking free.
Geeta could not get her mind off those children in Duduhi. They were caught in the grip of poverty and could not escape, simply because they could not get an education?through no fault of their own. She trembled to think of what may have happened to her own two children if they had not had any opportunity for education. This thought haunted her.
Geeta decided that if the children of Duduhi could not go to school, a school should go to them. Her husband Y.P. agreed wholeheartedly and joined her in the effort.
Geeta and Y.P. found that the villagers were aware of the value of education for their children. But, knowing that it was not possible, they were trapped in their despair. When Geeta offered to help them start their own school, it was like a ray of light in a dark prison. "Our future is in our children," the village headman told her. "Without education, they are lost. They must have schooling to survive."
With the Chopras' help and encouragement, the villagers set up a little preparatory school with a handful of students. They made room for the school in their small community hut. Trees for Life supporters provided funds to employ two teachers. The children learned the local and English alphabets, numbers, communication skills, self-discipline, and listening skills. Since they were new to school, they often learned through educational games. To the delight of everyone, the school even organized an "All Sports Day." A can-do attitude began to sprout.
Soon children filled the school. A little named Nirjala was among them. Her father struggled to support the family as a vegetable grower, and no one in her family ever dreamt of going to school. Now Nirjala and her classmates had this invaluable opportunity.
Realizing the value, other parents started to send their children. Requests for such schools started to come in from other villages. Geeta and Y.P. established a trust, which helped start five more preparatory schools.
With the increased interest in education, people in nearby villages were inspired to create their own schools. To this day, nearly one thousand children have graduated from the five preparatory schools and have advanced to other schools.
In March of 2003, after bravely fighting cancer for several years, Geeta Chopra passed away. But her legacy lives on through children like Nirjala, who is now among the two hundred children from Duduhi studying in a nearby school.
Perhaps one of these children will grow up to be the next Geeta. Who knows? With an education, a deep commitment to serve others?and of course, a tender heart?perhaps one could fill those shoes.