He is unlettered and underprivileged. Yet, what Harekala Hajabba has done to his village is unmatched.

A humble fruit seller from the village Nupaddupu in Karnataka – around 350 km from Bengaluru – Hajabba, now 62, donated a lifetime of savings to building a school in the area. The village had none until 2000. 

In 1999, Hajabba, who earns a mere Rs 150 a day, opened a primary school in a madrassa with 28 students. As the number grew, he felt the need for a new premises. In 2000, he exhausted all his humble savings and purchased a 1.5-acre site for Rs 55,000, and set up the Harekala Primary and High School. For this, he had to take a loan, which was fortunately cleared by some NGOs. The gram panchayat helped him too.

Hajabba has since earned a lot of laurels and awards, and the title of ‘Akshara Santha’ or ‘Saint of Letters’.

However, what Hajabba didn’t have until a couple of days ago was a decent house to live in. The one he had, was too small to entertain any guests and in a shambles.

But recently, an NGO – United Christian Association – gifted him a house worth Rs 15 lakh. The new 760 square feet structure was built after demolishing his old house. Built in four months, the new house has two bedrooms hand a separate enclosure to display his awards. Earlier, he used to keep the awards on the floor.

While Rs 1.5 lakh was collected through UCA members, as much as Rs 13.5 came from UCA president Alban Menezes, as per Bangalore Mirror.

This is what Hajabba said during the house-warming ceremony over the weekend: 

“On September 13, 2004, there were no chairs in my house when four journalists came to talk to me about my struggle for a school in my village. Now, I own this house only because of media persons and organisations like the United Christian Association.”

“I am a lay man. I have three children. I could not have built such a house,” he told The Hindu.

In fact, Hajabba would be so stressed about the repairs that he even went into depression last year and was hospitalised.

Menezes told Mirror: “When members of the UCA visited him at the hospital, we learnt that he was in depression due to personal problems. His house remained in a dilapidated condition with cracks on the wall that he was unable to repair due to his poor financial condition. All his earnings as the orange seller had been spent on the school – his dream project. That was when our association promised to gift a new house at the cost of 15 lakhs.”

Watch a documentary on him here:

This incident prompted him to build a school

Years ago, an encounter with a foreigner left Hajabba embarrassed and wanting a school for all the village kids. It was when the foreigner asked the price of a kg of oranges, but Hajabba didn’t understand the question. He decided that his village needed a school and every child deserved to be learned.

Awards and recognition

In 2004, he was chosen as the person of the year by Kannada Prabha. He received the Rajyotsava award in 2013. He finds a mention in the B Com syllabus for Mangalore University. He also features in the syllabus of Davangere University and Kuvempu university.

Feature image: Screenshot