Author – Tanha
Imagine an institute that is a combination of ‘F.A.L.T.U’ College from the FALTU movie and Fungsuk Wangdu’s unique school from ‘3 Idiots’ movie. Would be weird? Well, there is one such school – SECMOL (Students’ Educational & Cultural Movement of Ladakh). It has a large campus spread over 20 acres near Phey village in the Indus valley of Ladakh, India.
Mr. Sonam Wangchuk established the SECMOL school in 1998, which is an alternative education institute. Here courses are offered for students who have failed in their 10th exam.
At SECMOL, the students study English and learn how to live like a Ladakhi – meaning sustainable living. Since it follows non-formal education, SECMOL does not focus on any curriculum. It enrolls those students who have failed and then try to rebuild them. When I first heard Sonam Wangchuk speaking about SECMOL, all I could think was – “I wish I had failed in my 10th and maybe then I could have got chance to join SECMOL!”
SECMOL’s Phey campus completely utilizes solar energy for all its power, food and water needs. Solar panels generate the electricity needed, food is cooked using solar cooker and water heated using a solar heater. The SECMOL building is made up of rammed earth walls filled in with small wood pieces for insulation. This keeps the temperature inside the building low in summer and high in winter. All the buildings are solar heated. The maximum usage of the solar power has greatly reduced the costs of running SECMOL, due to which, the school doesn’t require any kind of funding!
The campus has grown over the years and has residential space for students and campers, large rooms for training, smaller work spaces, a library, kitchen and dining area. The campus also has over a 1,000 trees that have been planted, vegetable gardens and green houses and cows. The required vegetables are grown in greenhouses. SECMOL students completely manage the campus on their own – tending the garden, milking the cows, maintaining the solar panels, helping with any construction work, kitchen duties, and so on.
SECMOL has a travel agency – Around Ladakh with Students (ALS). It is for student groups who wish to stay at SECMOL’s Phey Campus and get the first-hand experience of working with its students and having conversations with them. The money earned from these groups is utilized for running the school.
If you want to measure the success of SECMOL, all we have to do is to look at the students who passed out. Thinlas Chorol, who spent a decade in SECMOL, started the first ‘Ladakhi Women’s Travel Company’ in 2009. Stanzin Dorjai is another student from SECMOL, who is today’s a renowned film maker in Ladakh, having started Himalayan Film House in 2006. Similarly, a naughty boy, Chozang Namgial’s life came to a turning point when he joined SECMOL. The staff at SECMOL understood and accepted the fact that he was averse to formal schooling. He had no pressures, instead there were people who helped him realise his dreams. In 2014, he launched his own brand of agro-products ‘Ladakh Fine Foods’.
SECMOL has created many successes out of failures. Here is an institute where every child is trusted fully, given responsibilities and his/her opinions are valued. This oasis in the icy cold desert of Ladakh praises rather than berates students. So, for all those who criticize academic failures, keep in mind that education is the 3Hs of personality that Sonam Wangchuk believes in – a Bright ‘Head’, Skilled ‘Hands’ and most importantly a kind-compassionate ‘Heart’.