On 24th February, 1993 the Brothers received a letter from his Lordship, Joseph Thumma, Bishop of Vijayawada Diocese in Andra Pradesh. It read, “I am proud to call you Brothers of the Christian School to educate the poorest children of this region for I know your reputation in academic excellence and character formation. This is my wish and the long-cherished dream of our clergy to have you here. Hence I request you to take over the residential college”. The Brothers responded to the invitation and extended their educational apostolate there in July 1993.
Keesara is situated in Krishna district some 40 km away from Vijayawada. The Brothers started a Junior college named Bishop Joseph Thumma Junior College. The B.J.T. College catered to the educational needs of the students of Keesara and its 20 surrounding villages. The pioneers were Brothers Alfred, Paulraj, Sekar and Arulsamy. At the beginning the place was barren and 14 acres of land were given by the diocese to the Brothers on which to conduct a junior college.
On the 30th April, 1993, the De La Salle Brothers arrived in Keesara to animate a junior college, to uplift their economic and social conditions and to help make them more self-reliant. For the first six months the Brothers were accommodated in the presbytery and they took their meals with the parish priest. In January 1994 more arrangements were made in the boarding house of the parish and the Brothers moved for another six months with limited facilities
The college was officially started in 1st of July 1993. Brothers Alfred, Paulraj and Sekar formed the first community. Bro. Alfred was the acting Principal for the first three months. Later Bro. Arulsamy who had completed his doctorate in the Philippines became the Principal and director of the community in October 1993.
The classes were conducted for the junior college students in one wing of the middle school building of the parish. Rev. Fr. Marredy was the person responsible for getting recognition for the school from the Intermediate Board. He was the correspondent for the first year. Then in June 1994 Brother Arulsamy took the additional responsibility of being correspondent of the college.
Thanks to the generous assistance of MANOS UNIDAS, Spain, the Brothers were able to construct the main college building with spacious classrooms and two Laboratories on the site given by the Bishop of Vijayawada. On July 6th, Rev. Bro. Pedro Arranbede, the Director of PROYDE, Spain, performed the opening ceremony of the new college building and Rt. Rev. Joseph Thumma blessed it. The Brothers had laboured hard to give a face-lift to the college campus.
At the beginning two separate courses were offered to the students namely; Math’s, Physics, and Chemistry, and Civics, Economics and Commerce with English medium. The number of students was low at the beginning being situated in a rural and backward area. Later on as many of the students in the arts group opted to study through the vernacular, the Brothers started a parallel section in Telugu medium. The Brothers and dedicated staff tried to improve the standard of these very poor students.
Six more acres of land were purchased adjoining the school property to provide hostel facilities for the students. In the beginning about 20 hostellers resided on the college campus. The Brothers started to live in the college campus from 1994 to 1998 In 1994 Bro. Paulraj was transferred to Boys’ Village and Bro. Divianathen joined the community and he assisted Bro. Arulsamy in constructing the community building, in addition to his teaching duties.
In June 1996 Bro. Arulsamy was transferred to Tuticorin and Bro. John Fernando a young dynamic personality, became the Principal and Correspondent of the college and Bro. Thomas Michael was appointed Director of the community. The Brothers worked hard to try and increase the number of students attending the college. They and staff went around the neighbouring villages advertising the better aspects of the academic programme of the college and owing to their hard labour the strength of the college started increasing and the Brothers added additional courses.
By 1997 the hostel building was completed through the generosity of MANOS UNIDAS, Spain. Students from far off places were given first preference to get admission in the college and hostel. Bro. Sekar looked after the hostel accommodation very well.
The Municipalities of Hondoriba and Cordoba in Spain donated a Jeep and a mini-bus for the Brothers’ Mission at Keesara. A group of summer volunteers from Great Britain, under the leadership of Bro. William Gregory, arrived on July 25th 1997 for a cultural exchange programme at Keesara. As a gift to the college, they constructed a dining hall for the hostellers.
The people of the villages requested to the Brothers to start an English Medium primary school with kinder-garden and in response the Brothers started the La Salle English Medium School on the college campus in 1997. Later it has to become a feeder school for the junior college. The Brothers provided transport facilities for both the students of the college and primary school and as a result the strength in numbers increased considerably.
The long-felt need for a separate community building was realized in the year 1998. The Brothers were very much grateful to the Diocese of KOLN, Germany who came forward with the needed funds to help in the construction of community building and the Brothers moved into the new community residence in 1998.
Bro. Thomas left Keesara in 1998 for the Provincial community and Bro. Gerald succeeded him as Director. Bro. Melchior joined as the third member of the community while Bro. Sekar was transferred to Tuticorin community.
The people of Keesara and the surrounding areas appealed to the Brothers to admit girl students along with the boys to the junior college. After considering and debating the issue, the Brothers decided to provide admission to the girl students from 1999 onwards. A separate girls’ hostel annexed from a large science laboratory was also provided for them in the college building.
As computer knowledge is now needed in all walks of life, the Brothers started a computer education centre in the college campus with the help of PROYDE, SPAIN. It greatly added value to the education programmes delivered at BJT College. For want of space the computer centre was located in a room of the English Medium and kindergarten school.
A group of volunteers from Lasallian Developing World Project, England, offered their services to construct a dining hall in 1998. This hall was well-ventilated, spacious and comfortable in every way. Later a team of French Volunteers helped to paint the college building making it more attractive. The Brothers’ presence in Keesara has attracted young people to know about the Brothers and to get interested in living the Lasallian life. Many candidates came forward to join the special programme started in the hostel under the guidance of Bro. Gerald and some went on to eventually join the Congregation. Bro. John was elected President of the Delegation of Brothers in 2000 and Bro. Doss was appointed to administer the BJT College. Then in 2001 Bro. Melchior was appointed Director of the community and Bro. Antony became the Principal of the Primary School. Bro. Gilbert joined the community and to assist Bro. Melchior in the hostel.
Some things that the Brothers needed to take into account in their commitment to undertake the running of BJT College at the request of the Diocese of Vijayawada was the location, the needs of the local society, their economic backwardness and inability to pay school fees, lack of basic learning facilities in the area previously and the number of competing schools and educational institutions in the nearby villages. Keesara is a village 42 km from Vijayawada and at the time the Brothers went there it was a very remote place with no highway as there now is passing the main gate. There are six villages within a range of 5 km from Vijayawada. There are two taluks (mandals) either side of Keesara at a distance of 8 km on either side where the local governments reside. There were two primary schools nearby one run by the Sisters and the other by the local panchayat. The new highway brought a further problem unforeseen at the time of going there because of the erection of a highway toll gate within a stone throw of the college gate.
The Diocese undertook to support the running of BJT College in the payment of salaries for a period of five years only. In Keesara there was always going to be a problem of getting students to the school and a need for a school transport department adding to the expenses of running the college. The Brothers took over BJT College in 1993-’94 so the financial support from the diocese for the running could only be expected until 1999 at the latest but in the records there are letters from Bro. Mark Murphy, Delegate for the Brothers in India to Bishop Mallavarapu Prakash. D.D. of Vijayawada pleading for more diocesan support because of the difficulties in keeping the college going. The bishop graciously replied to Bro. Mark on 19th March 2003 enclosing a cheque for Rs. 3 lakhs stating that it was a donation. He pointed out that he had discussed the request with his consulters and concluded that the diocese should have continued the support of the college through the years 2001-02 & 2002 -03. The diocesan support for the college may have been in large part because a fairly percentage of the students attending BJT were Catholics.
There was no feeder school to the college and competition for attracting students was intense. Brother Doss in a paper he prepared for the Delegation Council sometime in 2005 very precisely outlined some of the concerns faced by BJT Junior College regarding the provision of transport and other issues including the competition for attracting students. He prepared a table as follows:
Place Distance for BJT Distance for Kcherla
Chatnavaram 21 12
Jujoor 19 9
Alluru 20 10
Vellanki 15 8
Kokrajpalli 17 10
Paritala 14 5
Naklampet 16 7
K’cherla 9 0
By this time there was a new college established in Kanchikecherela which posed a major threat to BJT college in that they were offering the same courses for a lesser cost than at BJT and situated right in the middle of – Partiala and Chatnavaram. As the purchasing power of the people is so low in the district the provision of quality education was not a factor in considering the choice of school for most parents. Not being educated for the most part they would readily opt to send their children to the nearest school or least expensive school in most cases. The almost total dependency on seasonal cash crops meant that most farmers could not pay the school fees at the time of the students beginning the new academic year but at a much later date and almost at the end of the academic year when the pressure to pay could be ignored as the service was already given. Bro. Arockiadoss in the paper also provided a table of fee and transport comparisons between BJT College and the competitor colleges where it showed that in all categories the BJT fees were substantially higher than the others. A further factor mentioned was the preference of parents to send their children to their own caste established school in preference to any other. In the planning also at the time was a new government college to be built that would draw in all the children from Jujpoor zone. Till then the Brothers received between 40 – 50 children from this area. And while on the whole the results obtained by students at BJT College were good there were weaknesses in the faculty will lack of consistency among the science staff. There was also the suggestion that the college should offer degree courses as it was the only junior college in the locality that did not offer a degree course.
Offering a degree course or courses without a proper analysis of the costs involved in setting up a degree college and recruiting suitably qualified staff with adequate remuneration for their services in an area already struggling to run a junior college sounded indeed strange. Never mind the costs of setting up such a facility in Keesara would students come there who could pay for third level tuition courses if they were unable to travel to existing degree run colleges should have been carefully studied beforehand. From the very beginning when a team of three Brothers led by Bro. Arulsamy undertook a pilot study during 1991 with a view to taking over BJT Junior College there was mention of the possibility of running degree courses. The study also considered the possibility of offering vocational courses. These suggestions were set against a background of the school being under patronized in the area and where it was already severely hampered by financial constraints. In addressing the problems the college embarked on establishing a girl’s hostel in the academic year 1999-2000. It was a humble beginning with just 6 girls enrolling that year. However, over the succeeding years the numbers of girls residing in hostel accommodation at the campus increased significantly. To offset the costs of transporting students to a fro a boys’ hostel was already in place and over the years the facility was developed to accommodate more and more students staying in residence. It did not however overcome the financial problems experienced in keeping the project operational. Nevertheless, the idea of starting a degree program did not fade away as evidenced in a communication between Bro. President and Bro. Arockiadoss. In response that appeared in the report of the canonical visit that Br Arockiadoss had just received he responded to the suggestion of starting a degree section by; “Though I have my own apprehensions on upgrading BJT to a Degree college, I shall discuss with the Brothers and when appropriate and necessary we will submit our report”. Bro. Arockiadoss had every reason to be apprehensive given the findings of a study made by Fathers Casimir and Dhanapaul after discussions with both Brothers Arockiadoss and President John Fernando on 27th Jan 2001 and presented in a report by S Gnanadevan SJ on 10 02 ‘01. His concern was that every year the deficit amount was on the increase. The existing degree colleges (in proximity) did not have sufficient strength and the budget proposal submitted seemed un-realistic. He suggested that a proper survey should be taken in and around Keesara with regard to the existing college going students, existing colleges with strength particulars and the possible number of students who would attend regular degree courses. There was need to strengthen the numbers attending the school as it was found that the number attending the junior college had fallen from 225 in 1999-2000 to 202 in 2000 – 2001. He urged that the Brothers needed to have a clear picture of the target group and the vision of the Congregation and that the proposal for a degree college could be shelved for a few years.
A study of BJT College by Mr. Natarajan of LIBA, MDC Loyola College, Chennai for the years 2001-2002 and submitted to Brothers Mark Murphy, Delegate and John Fernando, President outlined in minute detail the financial position, college and school student numbers, accommodation and parental and student feedback on the programs and ambiance of the campus. Mr. Natarqjan visited the campus on 8th & 9th Dec 2001. He outlined the problems faced at BJT college under five categories including; operating deficit, competition from other schools within a 20 km radius all offering degree programs, the complete absence of public transport in the catchment area leading to transportation costs being a large portion of the total fees for the students, the induction of a new Principal resulting in some discontinuity of intended financial discipline contributing to an operating deficit, and the absence of a qualified accountant with full accountability .
He identified positive aspects and problem areas with regard to BJT campus which he described in some detail. Crucial among the problems identified was the deficit that had grown from Rs 2,35,200 in 1997 to Rs 4,54,945 in 2001while the intent was to achieve a break-even in three years. It was found that the Principal of BJT College was totally responsible for the administration accounts, curriculum and transportation of the college as well as the transportation activities of the school. The Director of the community was responsible for the college hostel, besides overseeing the young Brothers and imparting training to the aspirants. It was found that there was high morale among the staff despite the fact that they were lowly paid. Parents were willing to make the extra sacrifices to send their children to the English Medium School. There were some conflicts between the Principal and the Director concerning the over emphasis on the college curriculum to the detriment of other areas including ethical education, the poor hostel students and the scholarship for teachers’ children as well as issues related to the community of Brothers. A telling remark made was; “The age of rigid authority and dictatorial management style is over. This is the age of networking and team work for achieving a common goal.”
Among the recommendations made were that a firm of Chartered Accountants were commissioned to go through all the account statements, including budgets, and expenditure in respect of the school, college and hostel and they had submitted their report. The report recommended strong and proper fiscal management in the keeping of accounts for all activities engaged in a BJT college campus together with a close scrutiny of all activities to minimize areas of expense and avoidance of unwarranted expenditure. In all eighteen practical recommendations were made.
In 2006 Bro. Arockiadoss, President of the Delegation commissioned Bro. John Fernando to undertake a feasibility study on providing higher education at Keesara. The study carried out an in-depth survey of the attitudes of students, teachers, parents, former students, and local people on the desire for such a development. Br John found that there was divided opinion among the students at BJT as to where they would follow an Undergraduate programme. 47% were in favour of undertaking undergraduate studies in colleges near their home as against 37% who wanted to move farther from home. The same survey carried out among former students found that 54% preferred to do undergraduate studies in colleges near their home as against 39% who preferred attending colleges elsewhere. On ascertaining opinions about doing degree studies in Nandigama or Kanchikacherla 66% said that they did not wish to study in those places. 72% of BJT students surveyed said that they wished to study degree courses at BJT. How far these opinions reflected the actual needs of young people contemplating under- graduate studies after completing twelfth standard at BJT in relation to what career they desired to follow later in life was not made clear. It could be assumed that for the 40% of all those who expressed “no idea” on subjects offered at degree level that they really did not know what career they would follow later on in life.
While the study surveyed extensively the attitudes of all the concerned parties in relation to the setting up of a degree college and a proposed development plan for the building of a degree section to the existing BJT college it also touched on other matters that needed more attention such as the costs including adequate remuneration of teaching staff, management structure, courses to be included, analysis of existing nearby third level institutions especially an in-depth study of already “sick-colleges”. The feasibility study was presented to the Delegation Council on 26th March 2007 through the local Management Committee at BJT through the Lasallian Education Council and the Delegation Council adopted a resolution that it was in favour of starting a degree programme at BJT College Keesara after a number of concerns were listed needing special consideration. A license for degree courses was obtained by buying the Narayana College charter which was affiliated to Acharya Nagarjuna University. The name was changed to BJT Degree College and affiliation was obtained from Krishna University.
With the green light on offering degree courses given the first students to be accepted for degree studies and were accommodated in some classrooms dedicated for the purpose in BJT Junior College which began on the opening of the College semester in 2007.
Large numbers of projects, scholarships and donations were procured for BJT College during the years 2001 to 2010 including a project from APSO Ireland to build a toilet block (girls) mentioned in the Management Committee Minutes of 5th June 2004, a project undertaken by Spanish volunteers the same year or the Primary School. Later in September that year a toilet block and overhead tank for boys was undertaken. Also Brother Philip gave a donation to equip the MLT and Biology laboratories. An email dated 7th Feb. 2005 from SECOLI confirmed the procurement of Project #2391 to be undertaken by volunteers from Nantes, France in July for the construction of more toilets, and five extra classrooms were added to the Primary School for children 5 – 7 years funded by IMRS (Ireland) the same year. Brother James Kimpton also sponsored a project for the provision of three bore-wells in the campus mentioned in the M.C. Minutes of 11th Jan ‘04.
Many other SECOLI projects including #1949; ‘Furniture facilities for Primary Children’ #1950; Complimentary Education for Rural Children, #2022; Providing Basic Facilities for the Brothers #2391 (Nantes Volunteers Project building toilets), #2471; Education Opportunity for Poor Youth, #2518; Keesara Education and Employment Opportunities and #2571; Sanitary Facilities for Rural Youth were received during Br Arockiadoss’ tenure of office as Principal up until early 2006 when he was appointed Delegation President. Included among the many projects received were sponsorships for the students.
From information supplied by Bro. Stephen Tuohy, reports for all projects received from SECOLI were made from Project #1949 on 10 05 4004 until Project # 3277 submitted on 10 08 2011 apart from Project # 3265 received on 16 11 2009 for a Reading Program that was not reported. Previous to Project # 1949 received on 10 03 2001 no reports whatever were furnished for a total of 21 projects and grants beginning with Project # 1417 received on 21 03 1994. In all of 42 projects and grants given by SECOLI to Keesara from 1994 till 2010 the amount came to US$ 183,867. Keesara was by far the biggest single recipient of projects and grants apart from the Central Office compared with all the other Lasallian institutions. From a communication that he sent to the Development Director on 2nd July 2010 he was very critical of the over-dependence that India had developed on projects from overseas as quoted; “Very often too many proposals are submitted for the same locations. India has become dependent on outside help. That outside help is drying up and India can no longer expect the degree of outside assistance that they received in the past.” He was also critical of the way projects and donations were reported; “Reports must be: timely, complete and credible. India reports generally miss on all three counts.”
What is disconcerting to note in the communications between Keesara and the Central Office during the tenure of Br. Arockiadoss was the number of times projects were forwarded less the amounts deducted at source against advances taken on loan in lieu of receiving the said sponsorships. Working in this way made it practically impossible to give a true account of how the projects were carried out for the purposes of reporting them to the donors and it would help to explain the critical attitude voiced by the then SECOLI Director about lack of proper reporting of projects and grants. What is very evident was the way that the institution had to depend on outside sources for meeting its financial obligations year on year without ever attaining the goal of self sufficiency. It is evident too in some communications between the Delegation Central Office and Keesara between the years 2000 and 2006 that multiple applications for the same project or funding grants were being submitted to different donors for which the Keesara administrator was questioned. When asked to explain he reported that the applications appeared to be the same that they were in fact different because the projects were different.
Bro. Arockiaoss did valiant work in improving the academic performance of the college and raised the level of academic achievements. In December 2004 in a letter Br Doss proudly mentioned that the college was placed on the merit level of the state for the achievements of the students in May of that year. Particular mention was made of two students who achieved state rank and one of whom got a District level distinction for their exam achievements. All at BJT campus were feeling indeed that they were scaling their Everest. Sadly however, the high standards of achievement were not maintained for all areas of BJT campus in subsequent years.
Brother Robert took up the responsibility of running BJT Junior College in June 2006 and shortly after taking up the responsibility as principal, work was begun on building a new classroom block some-time around April 2007. Bro. Robert was not involved with this development as it was controlled completely from the Central Office. It was still nu-finished business when he was assigned to La Salle higher Secondary, Tuticorin in June 2009 and Bro. John Fernando assumed responsibility for administering BJT College, Keesara. Bro. Robert informed the author that the block had just come up to the first floor when he left for Tuticorin. The construction continued during the tenure of Bro. John Fernando as President but it would appear that during his time as Principal of BJT College the construction work was still controlled by the Delegation Central Office. Br John Paul the then Delegation Bursar mentioned that Proyde had given a grant of 38 Lakhs for the construction work but it later came to be known that Proyde funded the construction of the Girls Hostel to the tune of 40 Lakhs which was never built. In January 2010 a sum of Rs 33, 37,349 was released from the Delegation Finance Office to Keesara to undertake the completion of the work of constructing the Degree block and it was made the responsibility of Bro. Victor to supervise the construction done.
In July 2010 Bro. Tom Walsh requested the Delegation Centre to release 8 Lakhs for the completion of the building block that was to become the Degree College. He claimed that he had gotten permission from Bro. Denis Loft in Australia to use some 3 Lakhs of the funds that had been granted to Mosavadi School for the purpose of completing the building work. He asked that the Delegation provide the remaining 5 Lakhs. Later the same year Bro. John complained that the new College block had no electrification installed and that the fittings such as doors and windows were of inferior quality. The windows did not have glass panels and there were leaks throughout the building during heavy rain. Bro. Christopher, President had to put pressure on the building engineer Mr. E.R. Charles to attend to his responsibility in honouring the contractual agreement and when told that the money was all used he made a new agreement whereby he paid another Rs 1,50,000 to see that the job was done on 17th Dec. 2010.
Bro Tom Walsh organized a group of Irish volunteers to fund and build a new La Salle English Medium School away from the new degree block that was being built near the existing L.E. School. The work of construction started in 2009 and was ready for official opening on by Most Honourable Brother Alvaro, Superior General on 12th July 2010. The original English Medium School had been inaugurated on 6th June 1997 inside the BJT main college block on the top floor and classes were conducted for the junior children there until 2002 when the former Bro. Antony constructed the classroom block of nine rooms near the main entrance to BJT College. The new school was located at the far side of the campus and well away from the entrance to the busy highway and speeding traffic that ply the route between Vijayawada and Hyderabad each day.
Bro. John Fernando ceased to be Principal of BJT College on 15th December 2010 when he was appointed Principal and Correspondent of St. James Higher Secondary School, Suranam. Bro. Gerald who was then Principal of La Salle English School moved to BJT Junior College as Principal and Correspondent and remained for one and ⅓ years. He was replaced by Bro. Heldon in June 2012 who also stayed for one year only and was replaced by Bro Alex who was also before then the Principal of La Salle English School. Among other Brother Staff members at BJT College was Bro. Philip Estridge who joined the college in 2002 and stayed until 2007 when he was asked to join the Novitiate at Bangalore. He taught classes in both BJT Junior College and La Salle English School during his time there.