Sai Baba Central school in Ongole is one of those idyllic schools that usually only exist in Enid Blyton novels. I had the opportunity to volunteer there for a short time, and it was nothing short of an incredible experience.
Having spent 14 long years in a school myself, I can describe with a fair degree of accuracy, all the elements that define a normal school- blackboards, benches, teachers, uniforms, and of course books, lots and lot of books. Saibaba Central School has all these things of course, but none of them define it. What defines it instead is the sheer 'fantasyland' aura that permeates every corner of the lush campus. What with the ducks and geese gambolling around in beautiful gardens, the sight of children picking cherries off trees and flowers in full bloom everywhere, not to mention the ridiculous beauty of utterly mundane things like bus shelters and restrooms, you can't help but think that this school has no business existing in real life and is probably a little too picturesque even for a children's novel.
Magnificent though it may be in aesthetic terms, it quickly becomes clear that this is an institution that values function just as highly as form. In accordance with the principles of the founder, Sri Babuji, the students are encouraged to explore and learn, and to apply that learning practically. A perfect example would be the school's 'Green Brigade', a completely spontaneous expression of a group of environmentally conscious students' desire to effect some real change in their town. You see, this is a school for dreamers and visionaries, where store rooms become planetariums and old newspapers become eco-friendly shopping bags. Such lofty visions obviously cannot arise out of vacuum. They are the result of a considered effort to encourage a spirit of enquiry and exploration within every individual connected with the institution, whether they may be students, teachers or even the management.
At risk of sounding increasingly like a sponsored advertisement, I feel it is worth reiterating that SCS is a school as it is actually meant to be. The exact definition of what a school is "meant to be" will obviously vary from person to person, but I believe that this is a school whose achievements and ambitions are nuanced enough to satisfy most, if not all, of those definitions. As I concluded my stint there and prepared to return to my daily routine, I felt a regret that was entirely disproportionate to the duration of my stay there. But even that was overshadowed by an enormous mountain of envy that I felt towards the students who would get to spend the best part of their lives in that paradise. Can't wait to come back again.