Building Shanti Bhavan, a School of Hope
Duke India Initiative hosts educational visionary Dr. Abraham George
-By Charles Givens
January 26, 2024
Dr. Abraham George’s life story is one that has been driven by a desire to help others. Recently, the Duke India Initiative hosted Dr. George at Duke University where he discussed his journey, charting the origins of the Shanti Bhavan school, the core principles guiding its mission and the challenges and rewards of its mission to shaping young lives. The school is designed to allow lower-caste Indian children to thrive in a residential educational experience and has been featured in the Netflix documentary Daughters of Destiny.
“THE IDEA OF SERVICE CAME TO MY MIND, AND THAT’S WHAT CHANGED MY LIFE.”
George arrived at his vision through an education of his own. During his military service, stationed in the Himalayan mountains, he read a book by renowned author and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer’s experiences of creating a hospital in Africa inspired George. “What fascinated me as an 18-year-old was the romance of it,” said George. “I could just imagine; and the idea of service came to my mind, and that’s what changed my life.”
After George finished his military service and moved to the United States, he enrolled in New York University’s Stern School of Business. He would go on to have a successful career in business and finance, earning the title of Managing Director at Credit Suisse. George then moved back to India and embarked on a new mission: to help the socially and economically disadvantaged children of India. The school Shanti Bhavan, or “haven of peace,” was born.
Shanti Bhavan is based on the belief that quality education is key to breaking the cycle of poverty. The school provides a rigorous curriculum alongside love, care and clear expectations to children from the Dalit class. George’s dedication sets the tone for the entire organization.
“YOU CANNOT BUILD SHANTI BHAVAN WITH MONEY ALONE. YOU HAVE TO BUILD IT WITH YOUR HEART.”
George has faced many challenges throughout the years of the school’s existence: balancing strict principles with compassion, navigating how children deal with the emotional challenges being separated from their families and ensuring the school’s financial sustainability are just some of them. Yet, the satisfaction of witnessing children flourish and contribute to society fuels his passion. “You cannot build Shanti Bhavan with money alone,” said George. “You have to build it with your heart.”
George highlighted the importance of the school’s mission. As the mission is upward mobility for all, he challenges each graduate of the school to carry with them “one hundred others” through the rest of their lives. Naveen Siva, a Shanti Bhavan graduate and current Duke student, attended the event. When asked to reflect on his time at Shanti Bhavan, Siva echoed the good that came from his time there, and noted how the school had transformed him.
Shanti Bhavan stands as a testament to the power of one person’s vision to transform lives and communities.