Harekala Hajabba- an orange vendor who set up a school

Harekala Hajabba

For many of us, education is a way of life yet for others it’s still a privilege. At least 35 million children aged 6 -14 years do not attend schools in India. Almost 53% of girls aged 6-9 are illiterate and only 20% of habitation have secondary schools. It is one of the major areas of concern for the government to do something about it but not impossible. Yet not much growth has been seen in the education sector in the last few years. Scholarships and schemes are there, however, much of the rural population are unable to access them, leaving a huge void between accessibility and execution.

Amid all this, an orange vendor from Mangaluru has set up a school providing education to hundreds of underprivileged children of his village. For his efforts, Harekala Hajabba has received Padma Shri earlier this year. This is his story.

An orange seller who built a school in his village- Harekala Hajabba.

Harekala Hajabba is one of last year’s Padma Shri awardees honored for his utmost contribution to education. Despite being uneducated himself, Hajabba is providing education to several underprivileged children in his village. Hailing from a small village of Mangaluru, he opened his dream school in adjoining Newpadpu village.

He proudly says it was a Saturday, the day his dream turned into reality. The Government Higher Secondary School is spread over an area of 1.33 acres and is nourished by his everyday earning of INR 150. His dream of building a school came as a result of an incident 31 years ago that left him ashamed and embarrassed.

Harekala Hajabba

“I had never had the opportunity to access education, and I did not want the children in the village to suffer the same fate,” he said in an interview with The Better India.

In 1990, while selling oranges at a bus stop, a foreigner asked him about the price. He was unable to answer him as he never understood what he asked. This incident left him embarrassed and he decided not to let any other kid of his village go throw the same embarrassment. Due to lack of access to school and poverty, many kids in his village never set a foot in school their entire lives. But with Hajabba’s dream school, things changed.

In order to build the school, he saved whatever he could and approached several donors door to door. He collected aides, requested ministers and MLA’s, and pleaded with the government to set up a school in his village for kids hailing from poor families. For the next two years, he continued his efforts and as a result, in 2002 the then MLA U.T. Fareed set up a classroom housing 28 students in the madrassa building of the nearby mosque.

Later, with his savings and the donations he received, Hajabba bought a piece of land in Newpadpu and gave it to the government to build a school. In 2001, the construction began and Classes 1-5 were taught in the school. Within the next four years, due to his regular efforts, higher classes (class 6) were introduced in 2006. By 2010, the school had its first batch of Class 10 students who even appeared for the state’s board exams. Today, the school houses more than 300 students.

Harekala Hajabba

Not just the other villagers, even Hajabba’s own daughter studied in the school till class 10th and now his granddaughter is enrolled in class 1. Inside the school, there also lays a board of appreciation containing the names of all the donors. From the minor donation of INR 1000 to funds received in lakhs by big firms, no one is left unappreciated, except for himself. He says that the school is the result of their efforts and not his.

In 2013, the Karnataka government honored him with the Rajyotsava award. Today, in his house, there are hundreds of certificates, photos, and awards conferred on Hajabba by governments as well as private establishments recognizing his efforts. The Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award, is the latest addition to this room. He donated all the awards money to the welfare of the school and the students.

Now his dream is to build a PU College in his village. Harekala Hajabba also affectionately called ‘Akshara Santa’ or the saint of education is an inspiration for millions of people out there. His selfless determination to improve the future of the children of his village proves that motivation and regular efforts always pay off. 


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