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Volunteers have also helped to install hand pumps in 17 villages to combat water shortages, started outreach programs for girls who have dropped out of school, and provided bicycles to girls who live far from school.

Such initiaves are lauded by men as well as women: Kanwar Virender Singh Bhati, head of Faizpur Khader village, praised San Joe Puram for helping to open his region to a different way of thinking.

“Nobody has done as much as San Joe Puram has done for us,” says the 44-year-old lawyer, who has been associated with San Joe Puram since 1997. “They have worked for education, development, agriculture, cleanliness. We want our people and the country to progress in this pattern.”

As with the adults, important changes are visible among the San Joe Puram children, residents as well as village children attending the school. Diksha Sharma, a ninth grader, says the San Joe Puram children have made her more responsible and sensitive to others.

“I am happy to study in a school that gives equal opportunities to all.” Her father was so impressed with Infant Jesus School that he has encouraged other villagers to send their daughters there.

Bhanu Prakash, a tenth grader, says it goes beyond textbooks.

“The sisters give us more than book knowledge. They make us look at our society with different eyes.”

One such insight was to think less about caste division.

“I do not find any caste superior or inferior. I don’t bother about the caste of the one who sits near me in the class,” Bhanu says.

This is an important step, according to Linto Joseph. “People live in joint families and fiercely cling to their caste identity,” he says, noting that Haryana often has reports of “honor killings” — a euphemism for parents or relatives killing young family members who dare to marry outside their caste.

As with Diksha, Bhanu says life among the San Joe Puram children has given him a desire to help others. Both he and Diksha dote on Uma, a visually impaired girl in the tenth grade.

“Uma sings and studies well. We never consider her ‘blind,’ ” Bhanu says. He recalls Uma going on rides with them at a class picnic. “Most children were terrified and screaming, but Uma was cool. She is more courageous than us.”

Diksha was thrilled when she was asked to take notes for Uma. “We have become close friends,” she says.

Carmelite Sister Nancy George, the principal, is happy to see such developments among her students. She says village students vie with each other to help the children who reside at St. Joe Puram — they push wheelchairs, carry school bags and guide the visually impaired to various places in the school. The result, she believes, could help transform her country.

“We are creating a new generation that is sensitive and caring.”

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Jose Kavi writes about social and religious issues in India from New Delhi.

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