Torontonians start school in India that becomes the envy of the rich

WATCH: A school for the poor in India is thriving, thanks to Canadian founders and funders. Peter Kim reports.

TORONTO – Retirement has kept Barbara Goodwin-Zeibots and Barbara Galbraith busy. Both previously worked at the York School, a Toronto private school known for its high standards of education and learning.

In the past, the school has sent students to India to do service work in the community, which is why the two former educators chose the country for their new school.

Galbraith and Goodwin-Zeibots founded the Global Pathways School in the tiny village of Chettipalayam, India in 2009. The school educates students living below the poverty line who have few resources and even fewer opportunities for a promising future.

“They think a miracle has happened. Many of them were living in shanty huts. Many of them don’t have electricity; there’s no TV. So we felt that we needed small classes to give this intensive education,” said Galbraith.

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The curriculum focuses on critical thinking and analysis rather than rote memorization, and it has set a pedagogical standard of excellence in the region that has made the school the envy of the rich.

Higher income families are now lying about their wealth in order to muscle their children into the program, but at the present moment, only those with a demonstrated financial need qualify.

“We could easily convert it to both well-off children and children below the poverty line, but I think both Barb and I want to keep it this way,” said Goodwin-Zeibots.

Theresa Mersky is a local philanthropist who has provided much of the financial backing for the school.

“The [students] cry when school is over, not when school begins,” she said. “When we have new kids come in, they are so malnourished they can hardly sit up. When I visit them six months later they’re thriving.”
WATCH: Dr. Samir Gupta describes how he got involved in the medical care of the students at Global Pathways School.

Global News medical contributor Dr. Samir Gupta and his wife Renu, also a doctor, organized a medical camp at the school for the past two years to address the health concerns exacerbated by poverty.

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“The most common problems have to do with poor hygiene, and particularly dental hygiene, so we see lots of dental issues. We also see signs of various nutritional deficiencies like zinc and iodine deficiencies,” said Gupta. “Most of the kids are generally healthy; and what we’ve done is we’ve linked with a local NGO, and based on what we’ve learned, tried to focus on prevention and health promotion.”

They’ve also set up a plan for vaccinations, nutritional supplements, and growth monitoring.

A seed of an idea that began as scribbles on the a back of a napkin has grown into a flourishing school that is now expanding. By this summer, staff are hoping to move into their new building which is currently under construction.

“We will have the most amazing school by June. We’ll have three floors and be able to accommodate more children,” said Goodwin-Zeibots.

Currently there are 232 children learning to lift themselves out of poverty with a wealth of knowledge.

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