Reflections on Attending the Inauguration of the Z.P. High School Dining Hall

As we gathered to celebrate the completion of the dining hall, I felt incredibly grateful. Constructing this dining hall was the Maruthi Foundation’s most ambitious project to date. In this blog, I would like to share my reflections on the project and our future goals. 

The seeds for this project were first sown in January 2022 when Kiran Master, a high school teacher, explained the poor school dining conditions. Although the mid-day meal scheme provided free lunch to students, there was no proper place for them to eat. As a result, students ate lunch in the dirt grounds surrounding the campus, which hindered student attendance and community building. Though several government proposals to build a dining hall had been floated in the past, they were stalled due to limited funding and political transitions. After surveying other teachers, students, and parents, we decided to help fund the construction of a dining hall.

The project progressed at a remarkable pace. The budgets and vendors were finalized by March 2023. Full funding was secured in September 2023. Construction was completed in December 2023. However, the success of this project was not solely due to the Maruthi Foundation. It was the result of the collective effort of teachers, students, financiers, and community partners. Teachers like Kiran Master championed the initiative and spent time out of their own schedule to meet with vendors. Students assisted with small errands during the construction process. Financiers like Narasimharao Bandaru of Sri Siddhartha Infratech took a chance on us and seamlessly transferred funds. Community leaders like the village sarpanch supported and acknowledged our efforts.

Our strong relationship with our community partners relieved us of any worry about the project during each step. We had regular monthly communication, and we trusted that we would be informed if there were obstacles. It definitely helped that two board members lived in close proximity of Tarakaturu and could check in with the school if necessary.

In a conversation afterward, Kiran Master expressed gratitude for the flexibility we offered. He was surprised that we never questioned the construction method, vendor, or costs. The answer was simple: We are not construction or school needs experts, so imposing our own ideas of what is right would be unnecessary and potentially harmful. 

This experience has reinforced the importance of local knowledge. Since we were familiar with the community and its practices, we were able to plan for the Bhoomi puja that took place before opening the space and the holiday season that would delay construction. An outside NGO might have struggled to anticipate the cultural and social dimensions of this project. Local knowledge and trust is our most vital asset.

I wish that I could say we had intentionally focused on community engagement from the start. It was more of an accident that we chanced upon great community partners whose missions aligned with our own and who had time to offer input. We asked them what they needed and how we could best support them and designed our projects around their needs. Moving forward, we aim to intentionally integrate community engagement at each step of the process, from project development to fundraising, execution, and continued monitoring and evaluation.

When I first started this organization nearly six years ago, I was worried. I didn’t know if this would be the best way to effect change. I didn’t know if our efforts would be sustainable. I didn’t know if I should have waited until I was much older and had more money to donate. While I still contemplate these questions, I am glad this organization came together. 

The dining hall symbolized what we could accomplish with collective community action. It will serve as a dignified space for over 200 students to dine, so they can nourish their bodies and minds at school. We hope to continue working on community-centric projects that advance education and sustainability in Tarakaturu. I am excited to see what the future will bring!