‘I Feel Free Here’: A Desert School in India (Video)

TROPIC OF CANCER SERIES REPORT: The Rajkumari Ratnavati Girls’ School in north-western India’s Rajasthan desert is made of yellow sandstone and there are no Air Conditioners. Here, students can study and even play in the courtyard without bothering about the extreme weather. The oval-shaped structure of the institution in rural ambiance blends in the desert landscape.

The school is unique in that the architects designed it as an oval-shaped structure so that it can withstand temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius.

Local craftsmen built the school out of hand-cut local yellow sandstone in the remote Thar desert region of Jaisalmer, known as the ‘golden city’ because of the yellow sandstone used in its buildings and its fort.

The rural institution can accommodate 400 girls from kindergarten to tenth grade. It is aimed to provide education and training in traditional skill-sets such as artistry, weaving, embroidery for women.

The courtyard has a rainwater harvesting facility and a “marketplace” where crafts are displayed for sale to tourists.

Oval geometry of the school symbolizes the strength of women -Rajasthan is one of the most conservative states in India, where ancient customs circumscribe a woman’s freedom and in turn any chance of economic independence.

Pupils playing in the school courtyard. Photograph: Courtesy of The Guardian/Citta

Renowned Indian fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee used the local “ajrakh”, a form of woodblock printing on textiles, to design the school uniform, with the goal of encouraging the girls to feel pride in their region.

The Rajkumari Ratnavati School was designed pro bono by Architect Diana Kellogg -recreating the curved walls of Rajasthan’s famous forts, and in collaboration with CITTA, which is a registered nonprofit organization in New York.

Program manager Chahat Jain tells The Guardian girls visiting the center walk around in wide-eyed disbelief that they are going to be studying amid so much beauty. “I feel free here,” one little girl told him.

Families are now sending their girls there, known as the Gyaan (knowledge in Sanskrit) Center.

“Parents also feel a sense of security from knowing that mothers or aunts will be in the same complex learning from artisans while the girls’ study,” says Jain.

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