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Planting the seeds of knowledge

Riderwood resident runs nonprofit school in India

Created date

December 21st, 2010

Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, but teach him to fish and you will feed him for life. These inspiring words on Dr. Mahadev Rathnam s website,, speak to the character of a man who has dedicated his life to teaching. In the midst of earning seven degrees, Rathnam enjoyed educating students for more than 50 years. Now, while living at Riderwood, he oversees the Rathnam Education Center, a small private school located in Yadgiri District, Karnataka State, India. This nonprofit organization runs completely on private donations from family, friends, interested individuals, and organizations.

Humble beginnings

For Rathnam, who grew up and studied in the same impoverished village, the Rathnam School (as it is more commonly known) is his way to give back to his roots. Established in 2006, the school provides a free nursery school education to 150 students in two large classrooms. The school is completely free to the students, as are their books, supplies, uniforms, and daily lunch. My dream is to allow these extremely poor children to have a chance to step into a classroom and become motivated to continue their education, he says. This is only the first step for these children to start their life s journey in a very poor community and a hard life. By enrolling in the school, I hope to motivate these young children to continue on to higher levels of education.

Love of learning

Rathnam lives the dream he has for these children every day. Despite growing up in the Yadgiri District, he began attending school as a young boy. His hard work paid off. By age 22 he was teaching history, and by 25 he had his first master s degree and served as the high school principal in his hometown. After earning three bachelor s degrees and one masters degree in India, Rathnam moved to the U.S. in 1965 determined to earn his Ph.D. He quickly earned another master s, and, while working full time and helping to raise his four children, he earned his sought-after Ph.D., with honors, from George Washington University in 1976. Rathnam then became the acting dean of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) for ten years and dean for five years. Even after retiring from UDC, he continued to teach at George Washington University on a part-time basis until 2003. When I teach, I try to be an example to the students so that they will set high standards for their life, says Rathnam. As a teacher, I always tried to make the topics interesting. I would use my experiences in India to motivate them and also teach them in a small way about other cultures.

Day-to-day operations

In establishing the Rathnam School, Rathnam hopes that his love of learning will be shared with students for many generations. His entire family, including his wife, Rosa, and his daughters and sons, donated their private land to the school. And every two years a family member visits the school to monitor its operation. Aiding Rathnam to run the school from his Riderwood home is his nephew who serves as the school s principal and chief operating officer. I have an excellent relationship with my nephew, whom we all trust, says Rathnam. He manages the school and four-person staff wonderfully. The students and staff love him. He communicates with me regularly by phone and mail. We have complete confidence in his abilities. The family s dedication is paying off. The Rathnam School was recently recognized as the best in the Yadgiri District. We are now fund-raising in an effort to build new classrooms and add more teachers, says Rathnam. There is much I am able to do while living atRiderwood. I attend fund-raising functions at least once a quarter, write letters to friends requesting donations, call donors with updates, and maintain the school s website. When Rathnam and his wife are not busy running the school, they take full advantage of the Riderwood lifestyle. Riderwood has everything we were looking for and everyone is so nice, says Rathnam. My wife and I are extremely happy with our decision. In the next few months, the couple hopes to make a return trip to India to visit the school and spend time with the students. Because I received an education, I know the value of it, says Rathnam. As a registered nurse, Rosa shares that understanding. We know that for the children at the Rathnam School, this may be the only opportunity they have to step into a classroom. It is our hope that their experience at our school will motivate them to continue their studies. Interested in helping the Rathnam School? All donations are tax deductible and checks should be made out to FOINA, International. In the memo section, please put Rathnam School so the funds will be placed in this special project account. The mailing address is FOINA, c/o Kathy Rathnam, Secretary, 706 Tamarack Way, Apt 2C, Herndon, VA 20170.